REVIEW: “Mad Max: Fury Road”

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Has it really been 30 years since Mel Gibson last drove across George Miller’s dystopian desert wasteland in “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome”? My how time flies. Between 1979 and 1985 visionary filmmaker Miller gave us three films: the intriguing but lethargic “Mad Max”, the fabulous cult classic “The Road Warrior”, and the fun but commercial “Beyond Thunderdome”. While the second film was the real standout, I have always had a natural soft spot for the entire franchise. So of course I would be enthusiastic when it was announced that a fourth installment was finally seeing the light of day.

For years Miller has toyed with the idea of bringing Max back to the big screen but there were always obstacles that hindered him. Mel Gibson was set to reprise his role and at several points the project seemed good to go. Several years have passed, Tom Hardy replaces the aged Gibson, and “Fury Road” is a reality. What’s truly amazing is that this is the wildest, craziest, and most visually arresting installment yet and all from the mind of its now 70-year old creator.

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The first three films had a combined budget of less than $20 million. For “Fury Road” Miller was given $150 million and you will instantly see the benefits. The visuals are an essential component to this film. This is an unapologetic, full-throttle thrill ride, and a textbook lesson on how to make an action movie. Make no mistake, the action in “Fury Road”  is intense and relentless. The vehicular carnage is unlike anything most people have seen before. The story is a bit lightweight and clearly intended to serve the plot’s madness. This all may be enough to scare away some people. For me, it was the film’s unflinching, fuel-injected focus that made it the best movie experience I’ve had this year so far.

The film opens with a gruff Hardy saying “My name is Max. My world is fire and blood”. His world is an energy-starved, post-apocalyptic desert wasteland where he is haunted by his past and driven only by survival. Within the first few minutes, the nomadic Max is captured by the army of a savage and wickedly grotesque tyrant named Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). Max’s capture leads him to cross paths with Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) who attempts to smuggle Joe’s five enslaved childbearing wives to safety. This invokes the wrath of the maniacal leader who brings his entire army after them. And guess what, Max is caught right in the middle.

I can’t think of a more fitting actor to take on the role of Mad Max than Tom Hardy. His dialogue is sparse and he mainly tells his story through grunts, expressions, and outright physicality. And he does it all to sheer perfection. It’s a very unorthodox role. He’s not asked to say much and he spends a good third of the movie with his face partially obscured by a metal contraption. But he masterfully sells us this tough, surly, and untrusting Max character. But the real surprise was watching Charlize Theron match his toughness punch for punch and bullet for bullet. She is so good here.

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But of course the true star and the main attraction is George Miller and his insanely energetic action and presentation. “Fury Road” is a visual delight – a movie filled with “wow” moments, unbelievable stunts, and mind-blowing vehicle action sequences. Miller shoots his action with a chaotic precision and cinematic fluidity. Many modern action directors should take notes. But equally impressive are the stunning amount of practical effects used. When mixed with the top-notch CGI, it makes this one amazing looking film. And going along with the stellar visuals is Junkie XL’s vibrant and invigorating score.

Some of us had given up on Mad Max ever returning to the big screen. After 30 years it was a reasonable conclusion. But after seeing “Fury Road” I can boldly say it was worth the wait. George Miller has given us an installment that stands right there with (and probably an inch or two above) his phenomenal “The Road Warrior”. This is pure action cinema – a beautiful mixture of old-school style and modern movie technology. And after this taste of Miller’s vision, I can only hope he has more Mad Max movies plan for the future.

VERDICT – 5 STARS

5 STARSs

5STAR K&M

REVIEW : “The Expendables 3”

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The entire Expendables franchise started as a nostalgic rekindling of the once prominent over-the-top action genre. It wasn’t afraid to parody itself or play with the familiar action cliches of the 1980s and early 90s. And half of the fun was just seeing these actors together hamming it up and shooting a ton of bullets. The first film was entertaining and it set the table for the second installment which I thought was funnier and more self-deprecating while clinging to the all-important nostalgia. Now we have an inevitable third film which tries to keep the ball rolling.

“The Expendables 3” is made for a PG-13 audience (at least so it says), but don’t be misled. The body count is still astronomical and bullets fly aplenty. But the blood is reined in just enough to somehow keep it from an R rating. Unfortunately its desire for a broader audience, while noble in purpose, is undermined by the fact that the movie simply isn’t as fun or nostalgic as either of the first two pictures.

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Sylvester Stallone and his action ensemble returns minus Bruce Willis who declined because he wanted more money (one of the film’s funnier jokes takes a shot at the publicized dispute). And in keeping with the franchise’s trend, several new stars are added into the mix. Wesley Snipes, Antonio Banderas, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, and action star extraordinaire (sarcasm absolutely intended) Kelsey Grammer. These are some interesting names and it would be fun to see what the movie would be like if they were all that was added to it.

But in an attempt to inject some youth and potentially pass the torch, a group of new Expendables are added to the group. This is one of the film’s major blunders because none of these youngsters are the slightest bit interesting. They are cardboard cutouts and sometimes their acting makes Stallone’s look good. In case you don’t know, that is no compliment. They are walking talking cliches and they zap the movie of its fun and playful energy.

But the film’s main dish is the action and as I mentioned there is plenty of it. The problem is it lacks the pop that we’ve seen in the other flicks. What I mean is the action scenes rarely energize the movie. In the earlier films regardless of whatever narrative problems they would be having you could count on the action to liven things up. Here it often feels generic and monotonous. There are moments when they do pull off one of those great over-the-top stunts that feels right at home in the 80s. There are other moments that just feel like a boring grind.

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Thankfully some of the old action veterans do save this from being a disaster. Mel Gibson is deliciously maniacal as the head baddie. While his grand scheme and ultimate motivations are murky, Gibson has a ball with the character and I loved every minute he was on screen. Harrison Ford was also a hoot as a grumpy hard-nosed CIA officer. Arnold Schwarzenegger is also fun and every line he has seems to be poking fun at himself. Same with Wesley Snipes. But many of the cast gets lost in the shuffle and rarely get their signature moment in the film. Too many characters and not enough screen time to go around.

In the end “The Expendables 3” lacks the fun, the excitement, and the charm that the franchise built itself on. The action isn’t good enough this time around to save the film from its clunky and paper-thin plot. And while some of the old guys are a lot of fun, namely Gibson and Ford, too many characters are shortchanged thanks to the introduction of an insipid younger crew. It’s unfortunate because I have always enjoyed these movies as entertaining nostalgic escapes. “The Expendables 3” has left me wondering if this ship has run its course.

VERDICT – 2 STARS

5 Phenomenal Movie Car Crashes

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Yet another “Fast and Furious” movie hits the big screen this week. I’ve always been indifferent to this franchise, at least until the last movie “Fast Five”. It got away from the illegal street car scene and gave us a more appealing full-blown action picture. It’s a franchise known for the crazy things it does with its cars. So in light of that I thought I would focus this week’s Phenomenal 5 on some of the biggest car crashes in the movies. Now obviously filmmakers have loved to do all sorts of damage to cars, trucks, semis, etc. so there’s no way I could call this the definitive list. But in the cinematic world of vehicular destruction these five movie car crashes stand out as phenomenal.

#5 – “CASINO ROYALE

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I cry just looking at this…

In 2006 Martin Campbell’s “Casino Royale” turned me into a James Bond fan. There is so much I love about this movie – the fresh cast, the new grittier and realistic feel. But there’s also a lot of 007 traditionalism which I love. One of those things is Bond’s love for sweet cars which leads to its inclusion on this list. Why Bond thought he could have a nice, romantic dinner with his girl Vesper is beyond me. She ends up being kidnapped by the deliciously evil Mads Mikkelsen. Bond hops into his gorgeous Aston Martin and pursues. Flying through the darkness at high speeds, Bond doesn’t notice Vesper’s tied up in the middle of the road until the last second. He makes a sharp turn, loses control of his car, and it flips and flips and flips. This may not be the most eye-catching movie crash scene, but it brings tears to my eyes every time I see that beautiful car being destroyed. *sniff, sniff*

#4 – “THE MATRIX RELOADED”

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The first of MANY flying cars…

The Wachowski’s caught the attention of a lot of people in 1999 with their science-fiction mindbender “The Matrix”. It was followed by the 2003 sequel “The Matrix Reloaded”, a film best described as three insanely good action scenes threaded together by loads of boring, coma-inducing blabber. One of the great action scenes features a frenetic freeway chase where a horde of agents pursue Trinity, Morpheus, and the key maker. This long, mind-blowing sequence features cars, motorcycles, SUVs, and semis, all being blown up, flipped, and rolled in ways you would never imagine. It may be a bit of a cheat to include this entire sequence, but there’s just too many phenomenal car crashes within it to single out just one.

#3 – “THE ROAD WARRIOR”

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Soooo many pieces….

The second installment of the Mad Max series was “The Road Warrior” and it’s still my favorite. This Australian post-apocalyptic action series put Mel Gibson on the map and featured some insane vehicular mayhem. The self-serving Max redeems himself by taking a band of murderous marauders on a merry chase along the barren wasteland. Along the way cars flip, roll, and explode but there’s one particular crash that’s especially vicious. At the end of this great chase Max finds his tanker truck steaming towards a head-on collision with the evil Humongous. Lord H has no chance whatsoever and when his tricked out metal machine meets the huge plow blade on Max’s truck at a ridiculously high speed, well let’s just say you could sweep up what’s left of him and his ride with a broom and dustpan.

#2 – “PLAYTIME”

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You can just see it coming…

There have been a wide variety of car crashes over the years but none have made me laugh as hard as the huge pileup in Jacques Tati’s “Playtime” from 1967. This was Tati’s final film featuring his beloved Mr. Hulot character and probably the director’s most ambitious. Nestled within this unusual film is a hilarious car wreck which all starts with a little yellow sports car speeding through an intersection. This sets off a chain reaction of funky little cars bumping into each other, sliding across the pavement, and spinning in circles. The following scene of everyone getting out and simultaneously stretching their stiff limbs is a great topper. It’s hard to describe this so that it sounds as funny as it is. Just look it up on YouTube. It’s well worth a watch.

#1 – “THE BLUES BROTHERS”

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The mother of all car crashes…

When I thought of doing this list the insanely over-the-top cop car pileup in the 1980 musical comedy “The Blues Brothers” was the first to come to mind. Aykroyd and Belushi drive their ragged ride to the “honorable” Richard J. Daley Center but not before leading a ton of Chicago’s finest on a high speed chase through the city streets. Through tunnels, under bridges, and hitting speeds of 120 mph, the chase tears through the town. That is until a quick left turn leaves a police car pileup unlike anything you’ve seen. Totally nuts but loads of fun. The Blues Brothers is remembered for a lot of things – the hilarious script, the great songs. But I’ll never be able to think of this film and not recall this phenomenal scene! If you haven’t seen it, hop to it.

So there are my five phenomenal movie car crashes. With so many great ones to choose from, I can’t wait to see your favorites. Please take time to comment and share your picks!

5 Phenomenal but Utterly Detestable Movie Villains

The topic of villains has cropped up here several times over the past few weeks. In today’s Phenomenal 5 I want to look at villains but with a slight twist. Obviously the audience isn’t supposed to root for the villains when watching a film. But we all know that some movie antagonists and more evil than others. In fact, some are down right detestable. Those are ones we are exploring in this list. I’m sharing 5 phenomenal yet utterly detestable bad guys. These are the guys that you grow to dislike so much that you end up anxious for their demise – the messier the better. There are plenty to choose from so I wouldn’t say this was the definitive list. But there’s no doubt that these 5 phenomenal villains are unquestionably detestable.

#5 – AGENT STANSFIELD (“Leon: The Professional”)

Gary Oldman has a history of playing deplorable villains. But I don’t think any are as detestable as his Agent Stanfield in Luc Beeson’s “Leon: The Professional”. Stanfield is a corrupt DEA Agent who is a stylishly dressed pill-popping addict. We hate this guy immediately as we see him fly off the handle and murder an entire family including a young child. The slaughter is all over some missing cocaine that was being stashed in their apartment. The only survivor is 12-year old Mathilda (Natalie Portman) who can identify and tie Stanfield to the slaughter. Stanfield makes Mathilda and her protector, a hitman named Leon (Jean Reno) his prime target. Stanfield is a slimy and despicable villain who is willing to waste anyone that inconveniences him, even children. How can he not be on this list?

#4 – SEAN NOKES (“Sleepers”)

My wife still says she has a hard time liking Kevin Bacon due to his performance as reform school guard Sean Nokes in 1996’s “Sleepers”. I can’t say I blame her. A group of mischievous boys from Hell’s Kitchen end up being sent to Wilkinson Home for Boys after their antics finally catch up to them. But one of the heads of the school is a disgustingly vile guard who uses his authority and power to abuse the boys in every way possible. He verbally abuses them. He beats them. He and his guard buddies even sexually assault them. It’s a strong but disturbing and uncomfortable performance from Bacon which is one reason this character is perfect for this list. The movie leaps ahead 14 years later where two of the boys run into Nokes. They reintroduce themselves to him and lets just say that the results are certainly satisfying.

#3 – COLONEL TAVINGTON (“The Patriot”)

In “The Patriot” Mel Gibson plays a respected man who due to past experiences is reluctant to support the colonies decision to go to war with England. But his perspective changes when he encounters Colonel Tavington (Jason Isaacs), a vicious and ruthless English officer whose known as “The Butcher” by his fellow Englishman. Isaacs’ arrogance and calloused view of human life is never more evident than in the scene where he takes the life of Gibson’s son followed by the comment “Stupid boy”. Also locking an entire village in a church and flippantly burning them alive does nothing to endear Tavington to us. And then there’s his showdown with Heath Ledger’s character, Gibson’s oldest son. Tavington is about as detestable as a villain can be and when he meets up with Mel Gibson on the battlefield we are ready for him to get whats coming to him.

#2 – CAPTAIN VIDAL (“Pan’s Labyrinth”)

Writer and director Guillermo del Toro created a dark but fantastical world in his 2006 fantasy film Pan’s Labyrinth. In the film, young Ofelia and her pregnant mother come to live with her new stepfather Vidal. He’s a military officer stationed in the mountains of Spain and tasked with squelching a rebel movement against his cause. We quickly learn that Vidal is not only a brutal military man but also extremely hateful and eventually abusive towards Ofelia and her mother. Vidal is one of those characters that is so cruel and so evil that he makes your skin crawl. This violent sociopath soon completely loses touch with reality and the pure evil in his heart is realized. It all leads to a heart-breaking final scene with Ofelia face-to-face with an unbridled Vidal who ends up solidifying his spot on this list.

#1 – AMON GOTH (“Schindler’s List”)

One of the things that makes Ralph Fiennes’ Amon Goth from “Schindler’s List” so terrifying and detestable is the fact that he is based on a real person. This Nazi SS officer oversaw the slaughter of thousands of Jews in his brutal death camps. Fiennes gives a tremendous performance bringing this vile and psychopathic mass murderer to life on screen. We see him issue orders that results in the deaths of so many. He personally shoots men and women in the head in order to make examples out of them. He even sits on the terrace of his hilltop home overlooking the camp and shoots random prisoners with his high-powered sniper rifle for no real purpose other than his sadistic hatred. We’ve seen lots of Nazis in cinema history but none are as unnerving and deplorable as to murderous savage Amon Goth.

And there they are, 5 phenomenal villains that we can all agree are detestable. See someone I missed? Please take time to let me know who you would have included on this list.

5 PHENOMENAL MOVIES FROM 1981

I recently did a Phenomenal 5 on the movies of 1980. Well now it’s time for 1981. As a kid of the 80’s, there are so many of these films that strike a nostalgic chord with me. There are also many genuinely classic pictures that came out of the decade that still stand up today. As I look at these years I’ve decided to allow both nostalgia and classic movies to influence my choices. That was never more evident than with my picks for the year 1981. Of course, with so many movies released that year, I couldn’t call this the definitive list. But there is no denying that these 5 movies from 1981 are certainly phenomenal.

#5 – “AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON”

1981 wasn’t the greatest year for movies but it did give us some memorable ones including “An American Werewolf in London”. This crazy mix of horror and comedy follows two American backpackers vacationing through the English countryside. They are attacked by a werewolf which kills one and leaves the other in a London hospital. But everyone knows that if you’re bit by a werewolf you’ll turn into a werewolf and so this story goes. The film features some truly fantastic special effects and Academy Award winning makeup. But one thing that set this apart from most horror pictures is its clever sense of humor from the dialogue to the various moon-oriented songs. It definitely mixes laughs with its buckets of gore.

#4 – “CLASH OF THE TITANS”

I wouldn’t normally think a fantasy film starring Harry Hamlin would be a good experience. But when you throw in Laurence Olivier, Burgess Meredith, and special effects from the master of stop-motion animation Ray Harryhausen, I’m automatically onboard. This mythological fantasy picture pits our bushy haired hero Perseus against an awesome assortment of creatures including Medusa and of course the mighty Kraken. Sure the movie is campy and loaded with cheese. But there were many of these fantasy movies that hit the theaters during the 70’s and 80’s and “Clash of the Titans” is one of the best of them.

#3 – “THE ROAD WARRIOR”

“The Road Warrior” was the second film in the Mad Max series and it was the movie that put Mel Gibson on the international map. This Australian action picture from George Miller creates one of the most impressive postapocalyptic landscapes in the movies. Gibson’s Max is a tough-as-nails ex-cop who ends up helping a group of settlers who are being terrorized by a murderous gang. The film features some amazing action, none better than the breath-taking vehicle chase scene at the end that still rivals anything else like it. This isn’t a movie that will appeal to everyone but it’s one I thoroughly enjoy.

#2 – “THE EVIL DEAD”

“The Evil Dead” remains one of my favorite horror pictures of all time and to this day it still creeps me out. Two friends and aspiring filmmakers Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell made “The Evil Dead” with a tiny budget of around $350,000. Now it’s blossomed into a cult classic with two really good sequels. A group of college kids head out to spend their spring break in a cabin in the woods. Once there, they discover The Book of the Dead and end up unleashing a horde of demons who begin killing them off one-by-one. It’s unashamedly gory but intensely creepy. It’s also a great example of quality filmmaking without the benefit of boatloads of money. And of course Campbell is a blast to watch. This is without a doubt a horror movie classic.

#1 – “RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK”

Without a doubt, one of my favorite movies from the 80’s was Steven Spielberg’s “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. Not only was this a classic action picture but it introduced one of the most iconic cinema heroes of all time – Indiana Jones. Harrison Ford makes Indiana great through his pitch-perfect performance, rugged grit, and cracking whip. The movie features one of the greatest action-fueled character introductions you’ll find as Indiana and a young Alfred Molina venture into a deadly cave to retrieve a golden head. But his true adventure starts after he finds out the Nazis may have found the lost Ark of the Covenant. Indy races off to find it before the Nazi’s do and encounters a great assortment of friends and villains along the way. Brilliant construction, amazing action sequences, and just the right amount of humor help make this a true movie classic.

There are my five picks of phenomenal movies from 1981. Do you see one that I missed? Disagree with my selections? Please take time to share your thoughts.

TOP 5 BEST LEAD ACTOR PERFORMANCES OF 2011

TOP 5 BEST LEAD ACTOR PERFORMANCES OF 2011

When I look back on 2011, it will be a year where the performances actually outshined the finished films. While several movies became favorites of mine, it was the wide range of high quality acting work that really impressed me. Since we have talked about the ladies, let’s get to my top 5 male leading performances for 2011. Again, it was hard to leave a couple of names off this list, but this is one solid group of actors.

#5 – Owen Wilson (Midnight in Paris)

I’m as surprised at this as anyone else. I’m not the biggest Owen Wilson fan. I’ve often times found him over the top and just too goofy for my taste. But while we get hints of the Owen Wilson we’ve seen in past movies, in “Midnight in Paris” he seems more controlled and tempered while still being genuinely funny. I really liked Gil Pender and appreciated how Wilson brings him to life. Woody Allen’s influence can certainly be seen, but Wilson makes the character his own and sells him beautifully.

#4 – George Clooney (The Descendants)

I wasn’t as crazy about Alexander Payne’s “The Descendants” as most people, but there’s no denying the brilliant work from George Clooney in the lead role. Clooney honestly makes everyone else who shares a scene with him better. He doesn’t dominate the scenes or call unmerited attention to what he’s doing. It’s a very real and organic performance and one that definitely deserves the attention it has received.

#3 – Mel Gibson (The Beaver)

I was a bit surprised to see Mel Gibson shunned this awards season. Hollywood and the Academy are extremely selective in terms of forgiveness regardless of how much hypocrisy their selectivity exposes. I’m not trying to be a Gibson sympathizer, but his performance in “The Beaver” is not only one of the best performances of the year, but some of the best work of his career. Obviously Gibson knows what it means to be a damaged man but to see it played out with such authenticity on screen was truly stirring. More people should give “The Beaver” a chance. If you do, Gibson’s performance can’t help but be appreciated.

#2 – Jean Dujardin (The Artist)

From the first moment you see Jean Dujardin on screen in “The Artist”, you know you’re seeing something special. His precision and detail in bringing a silent movie character to life goes well past nostalgia. He brought more life to his George Valentin character with the handicap of no voice work than nearly every other performance of 2011. He certainly pays homage to a bygone era of filmmaking. But he also conveys the humor and drama from his character in a way that blew my mind. A truly brilliant performance.

#1 – Michael Shannon (Take Shelter)

Even with such great acting as I’ve already mentioned, no one effected me more than Michael Shannon in “Take Shelter”. He undoubtedly delivers one of the most painfully tragic performances I’ve seen in years. His depiction of mental illness is unique in that his character sees what’s coming. He has seen it in his mother and his biggest concern is on how it will effect his own family. It’s a crushing and emotional performance that was head-amd-shoulders above anything else I saw in 2011. It’s such a shame that he has gone overlooked.

Agree or disagree? Please leave a comment or share your top 5 of 2011.