HOLA HALLOWEEN PART 1 — Netflix’n Horror Films Through Several Countries

Hey guys, it’s STinG here. I’d like to formally welcome Michael Margetis to the blog who will be helping me keep activity up in this place since I clearly am constantly overwhelmed by several things at once. Hope you guys are just as involuntarily responsive to his constant viewing habits, his enthusiasm, and his sense of humor like I am and I am absolutely glad to have him on-board. Take it away, Michael!

Apparently Spain doesn’t have Netflix yet, neither does South Korea or Japan. Belgium, Germany, France and even The Cayman Islands have it, though. If you have Mozilla Firefox you can download an app called HOLA which allows you to change up your VPN address, allowing you to stream Netflix (and other sites) from foreign countries. The neat thing about this, is that foreign countries tend to have a better film and television selection on Netflix because rights aren’t as tricky ’round them parts. You can watch HBO’S Deadwood on German Netflix or SHOWTIME’S Ray Donovan on French Netflix, which is great because after you watch twenty-four episodes of Ray Donovan you can drown yourself in a puddle of your own urine.


Anyway, I tinkered around with this during the weekend and wanted to catch some horror flicks that weren’t available on American Netflix.

FROM BEYOND (1985) –  Available on British Netflix. Stuart Gordon’s disappointing follow-up to his masterful Re-Animator, features gore and effects that seem even cheesier than that film, which is odd given the fact it was made two years after that film. Jeffrey Combs returns with less energy in a less interesting role as a scientist trying to break the barrier between our dimension and other dimensions full of snake/fish-like creatures that are very phallic and rape-y. Barbara Crampton is mediocre  in an underwritten female role, all too common in the horror genre. The only really awesome person here is Dawn of the Dead’s Ken Foree. An image of him stabbing a mutant creature in bright orange underwear is among the film’s highlights. It’s entertaining enough at points, but it just lacks the creativity and fun of it’s predecessor Re-Animator. Grade: C

The one guy that can't find his dick in FROM BEYOND (1985)

The one guy that can’t find his dick in FROM BEYOND (1985)

HATCHET (2006) – Available on German and Belgian Netflix. Adam Green’s ridiculously fun and wonderfully self-aware throw-back to the old grind house horror flicks of the late 70s and 80s. Characters are intentionally annoying and intentionally make bad decisions so it’s easy for the audience to digest them getting murdered in some of the most horrifically brutal but hilariously entertaining ways imaginable. Horror icon Kane Hodder, famous for being Jason in four Friday the 13th films, plays Victor Crowley, a nasty in-bred mutant human who loves murdering folks in the creepy swamps of Louisiana. A bunch of boobs, plenty of blood and a sexy serving of Joel Murray make this a must for any homebody sociopath. Grade: B+

Talk about a mouthful! Kane Hodder in HATCHET (2006)

Talk about a mouthful! Kane Hodder in HATCHET (2006)

SPLINTER (2008) – Available on French Netflix. Impressively shot and well-acted, this intriguing horror thriller has a very solid premise. Boardwalk Empire’s Shea Whigham is perfectly sinister as a desperate escaped convict and Road Trip’s Paulo Constanzo is perfectly awkward as a PhD student. Unfortunately, Splinter doesn’t have realistic characters. Making stupid decisions left and right and abandoning established character traits half-way through, it’s hard to feel much sympathy for these people while a ravenous biological organism tears through them like butter. Grade: B- 

Paulo Constanzo, Jill Wagner and Shea Whigham trying to figure out why their character motivations keep changing in SPLINTER (2008)

Paulo Constanzo, Jill Wagner and Shea Whigham trying to figure out why their character motivations keep changing in SPLINTER (2008)

New Movie Motorbreath Breath – Kiki’s Delivery Service

Hey y’all, after an unfortunate gap in time available to me and my guests, I’m here with a brand spanking episode of Movie Motorbreath Breath’s Ghibli Saga on Miyazaki Hayao’s Kiki’s Delivery Service with my friends and former co-workers at the Blaze Jonathan Delarosa and Elsthon Gomez. Git dat shiiied.

The Maddest Most Maximum Force of the Future

Listen, there’s no way to go around this.

What is about to follow is hardcore gushing.

If my Hit Me With Your Best Shot video where I am spitting so many praises I accidentally make the bone-headed mistake of saying “teal and blue” like a fuckhead was any sign of how restrained I could be, I’m going to be a little more restrained than that, but it’s not gonna be objective. I mean, have you seen any of my reviews being wholly objective? Basically, it’s obvious that I love Mad Max: Fury Road. I really do. I’ve seen it four times by now, the last time being willing to sit through Liemax and watch it through 3D that did the movie no favors just to have a friend watch it (I later discovered this sacrifice was unnecessary as he watched it days before). Another of those screenings was also forcing a caravan to witness how Kamekrazy the film is.

No, not sold on how much I loved it?

Having watched all four movies in a row, I was able to put all of them side-by-side and I consider Mad Max: Fury Road my favorite of the franchise yet. Even while acknowledging The Road Warrior is also a hardcore masterpiece.

Not enough, eh?

I have Mad Max: Fury Road sit in my Top Ten movies of the decade so far. Like, right? It just came out like four months ago…

I don’t care. I understand if this is overhyping it and I hope if you haven’t seen the movie, you go close this review and go watch the movie yourself before continuing so that you don’t have too high expectations for the movie. I mean, I had high as fuck expectations for the movie to begin with and it surpassed them, but hey… it’s not perfect. As Pauline Kael, the best movies are rarely perfect.

You know who was probably hyped as hell about this movie more than I am now? The director George Miller who spent a good 15 years developing what he wanted to do with the franchise from the trenches of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. 15 years, that’s enough time to sketch out the narrative scope of a film that is kind of well-known for being very minimalist with communicating its narrative. Where does the character of Max now stand emotionally, physically, and psychologically? Well, they weren’t using Mel Gibson anymore – between his growing disinterest with the project in the time it was taking to get off the ground, his obvious aging, and his even more obvious public image being tarnished by his many unfortunate racist and sexist rants. After the consideration of fellow Aussie actor Heath Ledger shortly before his untimely death, the Englishman Tom Hardy was cast as the character Gibson originated as. In this switch in casting, we’ve went from a wounded and morally confused warrior man to Hardy crafting a muted scavenger, not as able a combatant as Gibson’s Max as Hardy’s Max is just lucky and primal enough to make his strikes count and his words refuse to spare what little identity is left of Max to Charlize Theron’s co-starring performance as the militaristic survivalist Imperator Furiosa. Hardy’s grunts and manner reminds me extensively of Eli Wallach’s brilliant performance as Tuco in The Good, the Bad, the Ugly in a middle scene where he tersely demands items for his survival upon surviving a deadly desert heat in a similar manner to how Max has been living (I’d link the scene in question, but I honestly think if you haven’t seen THAT movie, it’s certainly more essential than Mad Max: Fury Road).

Or how about that 15 years to think about developing further the atmospheric post-apocalypse wasteland that was once Australia – how has it slowly moved on from its meltdown that occurred so far back in the history of Mad Max? Well, now the day-drenched environment is divided neatly into steely blue skies and searing yellow-orange dirt ground to split the horizon violently as the primary War Rig armored truck pushes through the hot desert air away from its pursuers through the Namibia desert playing the role of the Australian outback (it’s particularly beautiful how its night scenes are shot, in a darker blue that could easily allow every object on screen to melt into a whole if it weren’t for how boldly defined the shapes of the objects on screen are – trees, our heroes, the War Rig, et al. – credit to Miller and cinematographer John Seale for keeping a sharp eye for such a delicate composition). It’s not fully washed out this time around, it’s a long way from a complete world and the lack of balance in the sky and ground says it all. In the meantime, we see hints of three communities developed in their own dysfunctional manner that manages to make its perversity beyond Thunderdome‘s Bartertown feel like absolute law by manipulating distribution of resources to create desperate slaves of people. And we witness how one of them gets away with it in the form of Immortan Joe’s (Hugh Keays-Byrne returning for his second time as primary antagonist in a Mad Max picture) death cult and the War Boys that follow him into oblivion disguised as Valhalla and worship the steel chrome machines that accelerate them to their death.

The real devil in establishing this world rebuilt from civilization’s implosion comes in the details that production designer Colin Gibson and costume designer Jenny Beavan’s work in composing the visual elements of the Citadel’s twisted construction, the vehicles’ worn and hungry provision of glimmering fire to the chase, and the many clans we witness (and my, there’s a hell of a lot of different clans within this one movie, each one feeling like it has its own story to tell)… illustrating widely enough to as make us know damn sure there is more to the world beyond Seale’s frame with which he captures this massive vision.

But my oh my, look how I’ve gone without fully summing up the main premise of Miller, Brendan McCathy, and Nico Lathouris’ screenplay attempting to pack as much character and personality within the actual inner lives of some of the front-and-center characters. See, the movie is essentially a giant two-hour long chase with certain divisions in direction and subjects to the chases, but it does matter why the main chase exists. Which is that Furiosa herself is defecting from Immortan Joe and taking along with her five of Joe’s prized “Wives” – those ellipses used in the most cynical manner by me, I assure you – to help them all escape to an old land of Furiosa’s childhood memories; a dream of safety from the most literal form of the patriarchy you can provide in a post-apocalyptic atmosphere. In this sketching of Furiosa’s dreams as well as shaded hints of her regrets (when asked what she’s looking for by Max, she responds “redemption” – an inner struggle of hers that Max silently shares with sudden visions of dead faces Max is implied to have failed to save from violent fates), we see a vulnerability of Furiosa underneath her honestly hardened exterior and it anchors her emotionally as the most human character in the film without ever once underwriting how hard-boiled a motherfucker she is. This is essentially her story as told through Max’s eyes (and in this, we also still watch a dynamic story live within Max as the two’s interactions grow more and more instinctual and in sync without ever falling into the pitfalls of a romantic relationship).

In the meantime, we also have an arc in the form of Nicholas Hoult’s work as Nux, a particularly enthusiastic War Boy who stands out amongst the rest of their hordes in that he is the vessel through which Max is literally thrown into Furiosa’s scenario and then we see how his perspectives of the many sides of the primary conflict force him to reconsider his stance in this world gone wrong. It’s the sort of writing that basically does a lot of the actor’s work for him, but Hoult uses that spare energy to both let Nux feel in tune with the aggressive kineticism with which the movie smashes its way through its plot and setpieces and yet allowing Nux to feel almost just as much human an anchor to all the chaotic bombast of the film as Theron’s performance as Furiosa. There is no doubt about it, those two are best in show and not just because the script favors them.

It’s kind of easy by now to pick at the two major themes of the film – One being providing a commentary on patriarchal civilization and the prospect of gender equality in a world where it’s much easier to be savagely tyrannical and selfish than here and now, the other being a commentary on how religion is used to manipulate the desperate and huddled masses into subversion or self-sacrifice and how that reflects on both the monarch and his subjects. There’s a lot of other stuff I could point out, but those two are the obvious ones where you know I’m not grasping for straws to make Mad Max: Fury Road seem deeper than it is.

But in the meantime, maybe the one tick I’d have against Fury Road is noting that, while I don’t exactly hold against people’s consideration of the movie as feminist, I never personally found myself fully subscribing to the movie as portraying that ideal effectively. Certainly one that still has a very loud and clear declaration that all sexes are equal, but not one that celebrates the idea of femininity standing out in spite of suppression. And the reason for that is inherent enough in its premise that it’s hard to change without outright changing the movie essentially.

See, those five wives – played by Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough, Zoe Kravitz, Abbey Lee, and Courtney Eaton in a manner that despite the actresses valiant and worthwhile efforts are just barely distinguishable from each other – they still play a reductive role as damsels in distress. They’re not entirely helpless and if anyone has any right to be in hysterics for a time being, I’d expect it’d be victims of continuous rape in constant peril for the entirety of the film, and for a movie that only has so much to tell in a short amount of time, not everyone is going to be granted the amount of life in them that Max, Furiosa, and Nux have, but I do find it still reductive and a bit hard-hitting against any feminist intent (There is a third act revelation that I think actually foils this well enough to make me dismiss it afterwards, but I don’t think I can go into it without spoiling more than I want to. Damn it!).

OK, one more tick against the movie, some of the dialogue, in its effort to pick and choose what it can say before the movie goes “fuck it! This is too fucking slow!” is stilted and unnatural.

“Bullet farmers! They’re coming from the bullet farm!” No fucking shit. I would not hold it against anyone who makes that out to be the “NO MOAR DED CAWPS!” of 2015.

OK, I’m pushing 2000 words and I just feel like there’s two more things I need to point out – both having to do with how the story is told rather than what it’s telling now. Bear with me.

The first one, I’ve already been dropping hints about all around and that is the amount of aggressive momentum the movie has to it thanks to the editing work of Margaret Sixel while Junkie XL pounds an incredible bit of percussionary gunfire-sounding blasts that you’d have to call a score in that it seems to attach the movie’s speed as a action-driven ride and forces your heartbeat to catch the fuck up.

And the second thing. The really big thing that absolutely is why I love this movie as a masterpiece – the scale. Sure, we’ve seen big movies, we see them all the fucking time, but not this damn big. When you give money to somebody like George Miller, who has proved with his previous work in this shoestring franchise that Mad Max once was that he is efficient and wants that money to not just show up on the screen but to trick you into thinking there was more money to this than there actually was… oof! You’re gonna see where the hell it was put. 150 million dollars in order to bring out this universe popping out in chrome and rust have it fly around in setpieces that require the most deviant imagination to dream of pulling off, like a car chase in a sandstorm with a character forced at the exterior, the famous Doof Warrior bard for Joe’s hordes, the giant monstrous designs of the vehicles as they growl along with Junkie XL in the soundmix, oh man, my head hurts just imagining how Beavan and Gibson were able to stand strong amongst the demands a more of this operatic conceit without killing the fucking party or betraying the idea that we are meant to believe in this world the entire time and live in it.

But then again, they all had a man who believed he could create it. He had 15 years to think about how he wanted to do it. Miller was undoubtedly more hyped about this movie than anybody, myself included, could ever have been. Byron would have been proud to see how far their imagination had gone.

OK, well, I’m done gushing. Hope that came off restrained enough for you. And like I said, maybe one day it will die down and I’ll look at the movie with less admiration like my love for The Dark KnightThe Social Network, and many others have fallen (even though I still love both of those movies in particular with no small love).

But I doubt it. I really do doubt it. In the back of my mind right now I’m thinking about going to watch the movie in black and white with just the sound design. And it’s 5 fucking am that I am completing this. Just ’cause.

I mean, let me tell you guys something, I had a bad run of days coming to this point. And I think I deserve a chance to gush over a movie as amazing as Mad Max: Fury Road for the time being. Life’s too short not to enjoy the great experiences you have and it’s very rare that I can actually call a movie in itself an experience (as opposed to say seeing a movie with friends and how we interact with it).

That’s how Mad Max: Fury Road registered to me more than any other movie this year so far. A propelling, persistent experience. A raw one. An unforgettable one and yet I’m eager to revisit it right then and there.


The Not As Maximum Force of the Future

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, the third entry to George Miller’s Mad Max franchise, begins with Max having now abandoned his old shining high throttle V8 Interceptor to trudging through the wastelands of the desert in a camel-drawn wagon. In the middle of his travels, though, he suddenly finds trouble once more when an AirTruk driven by a guy named Jedidiah (Bruce Spence) who resembles The Road Warrior‘s Gyro Captain in all ways (including being played by Spence) except having a son (Adam Cockburn) jacks his shit and takes it all the way in the distance for Max to chase after them.

The hunt leads Max to a thriving and kaleidoscopic place that resembles a pulp bazaar in all fantastical ways except with more dirt and dust to brown up the imagery. This place is known as “Bartertown” and is at the center of a power struggle between its founder and ruler Entity (the legendary Tina Turner in absolute scenery-chewing yet funky glory; she’s undoubtedly tuned-in to the craziness and I love it) and the head foremen of the pig feces refinery that provides power to the town – “Master Blaster”: a duo between the intelligent dwarf Master (Angelo Rossito) and his giant strongman valet Blaster (Paul Larsson) who know that the Bartertown’s survival rests on the refinery still running.

To throw this in her favor, Entity arranges for Max to be able to legally kill Blaster as according to the rules of Bartertown so that Master can forever be in her mercy and unable to threaten revolt or embargo ever again. This goes according to plan until a sudden revelation about Blaster as a person makes Max have a change of heart and break his contract. As a result, “Master Blaster” meet an unfortunate fate based on the laws of the Thunderdome in which they fight and Max is exiled back into the wasteland, only to be found by a primitive group of kids living in an Oasis and basing their cultural beliefs on the results of a Boeing crash where they were among the survivors. A belief that leads their leader Savannah (Helen Buday) and the rest of them into thinking Max is the prophesied pilot to fly them back home.

And here’s why I not only stop giving a synopsis of the movie but also where the movie outright stops it’s shit… taking forever to move on for the rest of the movie’s 107-minute runtime (I believe we get to this point in the premise at around the 50-60 minutes mark). So… yeah…

This is maybe a good time to note that the children is exactly where George Miller was apparently leading the story, even if it takes a while to actually get to the point. At the beginning of the project, it was not conceived as Mad Max film (The Road Warrior intended to be the end of that) but as a post-apocalyptic adaptation of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies (though the boys themselves seem to resemble more the Lost Boys in the end than the children from Golding’s novel). It was only after some discussion that the movie was agreed upon to have Max turn out to be the man who found the children and from there the rest of the project developed itself.

But that still doesn’t answer for the leaden and slow approach to the story that sort of starts well before we even get to the children and only becomes absolutely damning once we actually meet the children and have Max juggle between their dilemma, Jedidiah’s theft, and the power struggle in Bartertown. And the explanation for that happens to be a little bit more depressing.

Since they met in 1971 at Melbourne University, Miller (studying medicine) and film student Byron Kennedy had been close friends and filmmaking partners. Together, they made a notorious cult short Violence in the Cinema, Part 1 (a film that is actually near impossible to find apparently, as I’ve really wanted to check it out) and Kennedy became producer for Miller’s films since the first Mad Max.

In 1983, Kennedy suddenly died from injuries incurred by a helicopter crash and Miller was still grieving over his friend when he decided to go through with the project. In order to keep from overwhelming himself though, he had George Ogilvie, who had directed a miniseries in Australia The Dismissal which Kennedy and Miller produced and Miller co-wrote, take over the majority of directing duties. Miller instead opted simply to handle the action scenes, while Ogilvie took over everything else.

And the thankful thing is that, unlike something like Dracula (a movie which also suffers from a director’s grieving disinterest in a project, but much more severely to a point that it’s kind of a shit movie), Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome still has a lot of thunder inside it to keep me interested and catching up with it (or given the pacing change – it catching up with my interest), even if it’s not going flowing as quick as its previous two films were. For one, both of the two major action setpieces Miller directs are still exciting and fun. The Thunderdome battle between Max and Blaster is quite frankly wacky in the best way possible, with a literally off-the-walls approach that reminds me of all those Nickelodeon Game Shows I watched as a kid. The two of them bounce around on bungee cords slamming into each other, grabbing whatever weapon they can and gleefully chasing each other up and about, without ever feeling sloppy or amateur. It’s still perilous and deadly, but this is probably the way I’d expect such a death fight adapted for a children’s film and it does so in a manner that the gleeful chaotic fun can be enjoyed by adults in that same juvenile manner.

The other big action setpiece – a finale vehicular chase once again – is not entirely original. In fact, it’s very clearly the movie remembering why we loved The Road Warrior and while having to force us to compare it to one of the best actions scenes ever made is quite a self-damning task, there’s at least one aspect of which I can give the chase scene here a one-up than The Road Warrior. This movie’s chase scene is shot better in a wholly superficial way. The horizons melting with each other, the Bartertown settings given more license to feel full now that we’re zipping through them like The Rules of the Game zips through La Coliniere… Dean Semler is clearly able to give Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome a more polished (but thankfully never clean) look to it than the previous films, but it is the final chase where it absolutely pays off.

Beyond that, we still have a very functional movie still. Ogilvie is thankfully no slouch when dealing with the different cast of characters that live in and beyond Thunderdome, even if he’s not as married to the characters as Miller was when he was interested. Between that and the still interesting touch of civilisation building within Bartertown (production designer Grace Walker and costume designer Norma Morriceau seem to have approached building life within the setting as a more Western version of The Road Warrior without this time needing to raid BDSM and Sports stores), it’s still doable to slog through what’s left of the movie between Thunderdome’s battle and the chase into the sky.

But it is still a slog and it’s a painful one to go through after having lived through stories so easily and simply realised within Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome‘s predecessors. And witnessing this movie’s fall from the heights of The Road Warrior put me in a final more cautionary stance for Mad Max: Fury Road as I finished this film just in time to leave for an stage audition and then go to the theater to finally watch what was one of my most anticipated films of the year… now having seen how low the franchise has gone and hoping that this movie wasn’t going to be worse…

The Maximum-er Force of the Future

In 1982, a picture under the name of The Road Warrior came in to the USA from the Australian outback and, alongside Peter Weir’s Golden Globe-nominated Gallipoli released the previous year, made a household name out of Mel Gibson and got him the attention of Hollywood (the movie was released in its native Australia on Christmas Eve of the year prior as well). Unbeknownst to most of that US audience that was enthralled by The Road Warrior, it was re-branded under that title due to the fact that it was a sequel to a movie that didn’t really get much of a proper release in America. Smartly, WB (who did NOT distribute the previous film) figured that people would be more likely to see Mad Max 2 if it didn’t arrive in the US with a title that implied they had to have seen a previous movie to understand it and that paid off a hell of a lot The Road Warrior became a big smash hit in North America, easily outgrossing there than it did in Australia (just to note: I’m going to refer to Mad Max 2 as The Road Warrior simply because it is easier for me to distinguish it from its predecessors that way).

Of course, while The Road Warrior stands alone as a self-contained narrative from Mad Max as all four films do, there is some amount of reward to watching it with the previous film in your mind. For one thing, the Australian outback backdrop of the previous already felt sparse and erratic has now become bone-dry bare and primal. Now that the passage of time has come between the two movies we can actually see that post-apocalyptic world that defined the franchise and was teased by the inevitable decline witnessed in the previous movie. But largely, to me, the biggest reward is how they thematically comment upon each other. For Mad Max was a movie that left our hero an absolute shell of a man, now his lack of character coming as a result of what’s happened to him rather than the unfortunate mix of uneffective acting and writing in the previous film (though I still love that movie with all my heart, as I do for the the entire series).

The Road Warrior begins in a manner of mythic storytelling from an unseen character describing Max (Gibson) as simply “The Road Warrior” and how he had performed the heroic deeds to be described in the picture and how he “learned to live again”. The Road Warrior already states in its opening that we are about to witness Max redeeming himself from his fall from humanity in the acts of revenge he performed in Mad Max, even if the environment itself won’t become any healthier.

By the opening of the second movie, Max has now become an island to himself, wandering the roads searching for precious relics of the world that died. He’s still getting into shit with gangs, though. Particularly one biker who takes a predatory manner to Max by the name of Wez (Vernon Wells) is after him at the opening and Max is just barely able to shake him off. In the hunt for gasoline, Max is also able to catch himself a prisoner of a Gyro Captain (Bruce Spence) who leads him to a nearby small community based in an oil refinery to spare. Arrangements get mixed up and Max ends up an unwelcome prisoner of Pappagallo (Michael Preston) and his community while Wez’ gang – headed by the true antagonist of the picture, the menacing and gladiator-esque Lord Humungus (Kjell Nilsson) – begins to threaten to run down the refinery’s inhabitants to take their precious guzzoline. Max makes a deal to help in their escape of Humungus’ attack with their gas and so begins his personal quest…

It’s actually a pretty sparse premise, with a straightforward arc for Max as a character. In fact, the plot is so bare bones, many of the characters aren’t really given names so much as acknowledgments to how they functioned in the credits. And yet I’d never think to call the film empty – as the substance lies in how much of the world is built in the backdrop of Max’s story and the personality that gives the film. Desolate, desperate, with Norma Moriceau’s costume design and Grace Walker’s art direction taking care to pick and choose what remnants of the old world of today should be given flashing glimpses in this broken one, and how should they be twisted to fit into the resourceless environment. At the same time, while tackling that concept, they also have to make sure to juggle between having it grounded with the viewer yet evoke some amount of epic mythic quality for the identification of our narrator – who elicits our excitement for what is to come before returning in the end to confirm how Max learned to give hope to others, even if he had very little in himself to spare. It very effectively is the sort of story one has to take from Mad Max, where our hero finds himself at lows he didn’t imagine being at the beginning of his plight, before deciding the only direction left for him to go in this world is up. And by painting these in broad strokes with the script, it allows the more subtle facets like how these characters use ammunition sparingly or have to choose carefully their alliances and antagonisms lest it break their chances of survival. It’s a big world out there implied that is made small and personal here.

And it’s still epic alright. Even, if the narration and the design didn’t give you that feeling, the final truck chase should cement that once and for all. Director George Miller and cinematographer Dean Semler bring back all that shockingly effective energy from this movie’s predecessor back by giving it the look of invention among the ragged armored manner of the vehicle, while editors David Stiven, Michael Balson, and Tim Wellburn begin to restrain themselves just a bit from the “BOOM! and then POW! and then CLANG!” of the first movie to allow the audience to behold the impressive scale of both our heroes’ scrappy machine and the villains’ predatory fleet. That probably comes from how remarkably minimal the action setpieces are in this film (I was actually very surprised there was not more action), but that doesn’t stop the three from kicking up the film’s momentum the moment any semblance of violence or tension comes to our heroes, particularly where the film is able to segue between Max’s charge past Humungus’ army with a tanker back into the oil refinery suddenly into an attempt to kick out the intruding Wez by any means without me even realizing this happened until everyone’s safe and I can catch my breath with them. It may just be the few action scenes, but they carry punch and weight and never seem to just be there for the sake of it. It’s a logical approach.

Watching The Road Warrior for the very first time in anticipation of Mad Max: Fury Road made me extremely fearful. The Road Warrior is such an amazing work of confidence in storytelling mixed in with once again shoestring economic filmmaking that I began to wonder if it was worth daring Fury Road to actually live up to the high bar The Road Warrior left, not only in action cinema. But in cinema as a whole. This is a movie that is able to feel larger than life and get away with it.

The Maximum Force of the Future

I had not seen a single Mad Max picture until May 2015 in the days leading to the premiere of Mad Max: Fury Road. I had not been excited and anticipating that film based on the strength of the franchise up until that point nor on George Miller’s output (whose name would rarely reach my mind prior to this year – while I had seen the Babe movies as a child, the only real reason I recognized his name was from his failed attempt to create a Justice League feature). I was really fucking excited for that movie based on how high-octane the trailers were alone. Without any baggage from the previous trilogy that sent Mel Gibson from Australia back to America. None of that.

From what I understood from people who had seen the series, it wasn’t a necessity to catch those initial three pictures to get into the then-upcoming picture. But I figured “why leave that gap?” and so I went ahead and popped the DVD of the first film I had for four years (only playing as background noise once while I worked on a Lab Report) and sat my ass down to begin watching a forefather of many things cinematic: low budget filmmaking. Vehicle-based action cinema. Australian cult cinema. Post-apocalyptic cinema.

As I pre-gamed myself with this movie and its sequels (which I shortly bought on Blu-Ray), a friend suggested that the first film for both Miller and the franchise Mad Max would be underwhelming and boring, easily the weakest of the bunch, a sentiment I had constantly heard from others in the time coming to that day in May as well.

What the fuck are you guys smoking, though?

I get that to many, Mad Max doesn’t seem like much you haven’t already seen in a million other car chase scenes, but let me tell you: you’re watching its DNA spread. And witnessing the genesis of that form of kinetic car-porn editing and cinematography made as a desperate attempt to make Mad Max larger than life as a film was something I found myself glued to. I get that it may be the Blade Runner effect where just because it did it first doesn’t make it compelling, but Blade Runner‘s my favorite movie anyway so jog on.

But even beyond how viscerally exciting the movie’s car choreography and cinematography by David Eggby is how much more impressive I find Mad Max as a physical production. Before May, my holy grails of low-budget cinema were Night of the Living Dead and The Evil Dead as aggressive showcases of ingenuity needed when your resources are limited. The former film was made for 114k, the latter’s production budget has never been reliably sourced but it ranges between 350 to 400k. And they have that cinematic presentation as opposed to found footage films like Paranormal Activity and The Blair Witch Project.

But the problem is Night of the Living Dead and The Evil Dead look like what they cost, even if there are good movies underneath the cheapness of it all. And it doesn’t bug me (on the contrary, Night of the Living Dead is one of my Ten Desert Island Movies), but it’s present. Mad Max was made for 350,000 to 400,000 Australian Dollars (decidedly less than the budget of The Evil Dead and came out feeling like it just as well belonged in any Hollywood car rally film like Two-Lane Blacktop or Vanishing Point.

Except it also has a lot more character beyond how balletic and full of momentum its car chases and crashes are, but let me get to that in a moment. I should begin recapping what the hell this film is about.

In the near future, the world has gone through an energy crisis and now most of society is in the middle of (rather than being on the verge of) breakdown – violence and gangs run rampant around the roads. Civilisation still exists with cities and social gatherings, but it’s almost certainly on its last leg (something I’ll get back to shortly). And the civilisation we are now focusing on is that isolated island of self that is Australia, where the government has its own police called the Main Force Patrol that is little more than a car gang working for the government itself, their weapon of speed being the Pursuit Special.

When we’re dropped into this vehicle-based society, a motorcyclist who deems himself the Nightrider (Vincent Gil) has murdered one of the MFP and stolen his Pursuit. He and his girlfriend take another few MFP officers for a violent and reckless whirl before one particular officer remorselessly forces the Nightrider to becoming a wreck – both mentally broken and literal fiery scrap of a human. That man is revealed to “Mad Max” Rockatansky (Gibson), a man on the verge of quits with the Force making his Captain Fifi (Roger Ward) extremely touchy about this. You see, Max is the MFP’s top guy, though we didn’t need Fifi telling us that since we witnessed Max in action from the very get-go.

Yet Max is also a family man with a wife Jessie (Joanne Samuel) and son Sprog (Brendan Heath) and he recognizes that the problem isn’t that he gets no accountability for forcing deviant motorists to fuse their flesh to the hot steel of their wrecked car. It is that he’s afraid he himself will become that collateral damage. Even while the world around him is eventually dying and ending, he’s afraid of his own mortality.

In the meantime, The Nightrider turns out to have had friends in the form of a gang headed by the Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne). After they show up at the train depot to pick up what’s left of the Nightrider, they go and turn the area red in his honor, including chasing after a couple whom they terrorize and rape.

I led the plot summary to this point because I really think this moment of violence is what really makes the movie one-of-a-kind as the sound design and editing by Tony Paterson and Cliff Hayes really does well to make the cars their own fully-fleshed characters in this world. We thankfully never see any rape or violence to the man or woman of the couple happen (I don’t even think they say “rape” in the film; you can just figure out when you happen upon the aftermath like Max does), what we DO see is the gang tear apart the man’s car – smashing windows, bashing hoods, scratching paint, all in detail that feels painful and full of anguish when taken with the cinematic act of overlapping the woman’s screams over this devastation that is occurring. Machinery is not an extension of life in Mad Max, it is its own life in the movie. Earlier on, Fifi attempts to seduce Max away from retiring with a specially modified V8 Interceptor and when Max’s partner/best friend Goose (Steve Bisley) shows Max the engine roar with glee, the look on their faces is like they’re about to go get turnt up and laid tonight. That’s where most of the personality of the world Mad Max takes place in lies.

Which is why it makes it a bit more of a bug when the movie tries to domesticate itself into a more intimate story of Max’s life – particularly with his relationship to Jessie and Sprog and the vacation they attempt to take later on in the film. It just seems such a jar against how the movie tries to showcase its environment as a showstring society on the verge of economic collapse and already dealing with moral collapse, that while Gibson and Samuel try their very best to make their moments the most human, it doesn’t fit in this kind of nihilistic story. Kind of.

It’s obvious from the get-go that most of the people in Max’s life – Goose, Jessie, Sprog – are doomed to be lost as casualties of the dystopian Australia’s decay and when the movie starts leaning towards that dehumanization of Max is where I finally see where it is getting at. Gibson’s performance already sort of toes the line between Father and Husband and Against-the-Book Cop and it never really finds much of a point where his body language or facials can push more into the latter. He just sort of follows the plot where it takes him and while it doesn’t make Max any less of a character, it doesn’t help Max’s psychological arc either – in fact it sort of nearly wipes it away. The majority of the color comes from the bombastics of the villains themselves in just illogical manners – Keays-Byrne himself seems to twist around between being an animal on two feet playing human and a heightened actor aware that he’s being caught pretending he’s in Shakespeare (Keays-Byrne indeed had a background with the Royal Shakespeare Company).

But still in the end, the true source of all the energy of the film is the car design and chaotic speed with which Miller captures their roar and charge, like lions and animals in the Savannah challenging each other. The movie ramps itself and nudges the action to keep going faster and more aggressive but never loses continuity or fluidity, which only serves to double the relentlessness of the car chase’s force.

And then there is of course what I meant to get back to: the world. This movie doesn’t try to build its world so much as show how far it has shrinked by now, with shots like the Hall of Justice’s broken exteriors (and the interiors looking like not much more than a warehouse the MFP may have squatted in) implying the further collapse of society that we don’t get to see much of in the latter half of Mad Max. Instead, it lives in Max himself where we witness the revenge of the bikers happens practically accidentally to all the things that made Max want to come out of this story alive and by the end of it, he has no reason to be much more than the sort of harbinger of chrome carnage Fifi always wanted him to be. He’s become just as desolate as the world around him has been on the verge of – he beat it to emptiness.

For a film shot and taking place, almost entirely in daylight, Mad Max is one of the finest showcases of nihilism in storytelling I’ve caught and I think its ending moments especially do well to carve out the brutality that Max has himself personified and leaving him more able to cause as much physical damage to a world that practically doesn’t exist anymore. Which I think is the perfect little place for a movie franchise to leave our character before he redeems himself from his apparent hopelessness…