Film Review: The Cars That Ate Paris (1974)

Also known as: The Cars That Eat People (US alternative title), Cars (Germany, Norway), Killing Cars (France)
Release Date: May, 1974 (Cannes)
Directed by: Peter Weir
Written by: Peter Weir, Keith Gow
Music by: Bruce Smeaton
Cast: John Meillon, Terry Camilleri, Kevin Miles, Bruce Spence, Chris Haywood

Royce Smeal Film Productions, Salt-Pan, The Australian Film Development Corporation, 91 Minutes, 74 Minutes (cut version)

Review:

“As to our youth, they are idle. They are lazy. The need to work! As that American President said, eh, what was his name? Roosevelt. Roosevelt, yes. The New Deal! Build! They have got to work!” – The Mayor

This Aussie film is a strange little bird.

It’s a very dry, black comedy about a small village that causes car accidents in order to strip cars of their parts and to use the accident victims for weird medical experiments.

Writer and director Peter Weir came up with the idea while driving through the French countryside. He thought the road he was on was full of strange warning signs and found it odd how villages were sprinkled along the stretch of his rural journey.

I think that this film has a real place in history not because of its overall quality but because of its influence on other films that made more of a cultural impact, the original Mad Max for instance, which borrows some of this film’s ideas but executes them better. And then later on, the sequels would borrow some of the post-apocalyptic automobile designs from this picture. Most notably, the spiky cars that were used in 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road.

This film also sprinkles in a bit of horror and sci-fi with a pinch of Bruce Spence, who would go on to be in two Mad Max films, as well as Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and Matrix Revolutions.

This is a moderately amusing film but a lot of the comedy doesn’t hit. This could be because the humor is very Australian and some things might not translate, culturally. Also, it is a pretty dated movie when seen through modern eyes.

From a narrative standpoint, this explores some neat ideas but doesn’t really deliver on them. Although the mayhem in the final sequence was pretty enjoyable, as the town’s angry teens in post-apocalyptic cars overrun the big annual festival.

I wouldn’t call this a great movie and it’s almost forgettable, other than the fact that it influenced movies that are better than it.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: other Peter Weir films and then the original Mad Max, as it has some minute similarities.

Film Review: Matrix Revolutions (2003)

Also known as: The Burly Man (fake working title), The Matrix 3 (working title)
Release Date: October 27th, 2003 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: The Wachowskis
Written by: The Wachowskis
Music by: Don Davis
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving, Jada Pinkett Smith, Monica Bellucci, Harold Perrineau, Collin Chou, Gina Torres, Anthony Zerbe, Cornel West, Mary Alice, Bruce Spence

NPV Entertainment, Silver Pictures, Village Roadshow Pictures, Warner Bros., 129 Minutes

Review:

“Can you feel it Mr. Anderson? Closing in on you? Oh I can, I really should thank you after all. It was, after all, it was your life that taught me the purpose of all life. The purpose of life is to end.” – Agent Smith

*Sigh*

Well, I got to the end. But I’m glad this journey of revisiting The Matrix film series is now behind me.

Reason being, I didn’t really enjoy these films because of how dated and horribly cliche and goofy they are. Plus, each installment in this trilogy got worse. I thought that this one might play better than the second but this film is such a massive misfire that it didn’t even come close to hitting the target it was aiming at.

My memories remembered this as a big two hour action sequence. But it’s not. There is a lot of action but it doesn’t really come until the last hour of the movie. Everything before that is really unnecessary. I mean, fuck, Neo was stuck in a subway station for a fucking half hour while his squad tried to save him from his limbo. Great way to use your time wisely in a final installment. The first act of this picture felt like episode 15 of a season of a TV show where they needed filler bullshit to pad out the season to 22 episodes.

Once the action does get going, the film gets better but we’re also thrown into action sequences with characters we just met or barely know and there’s no real reason for us to feel connected to many of them. So when some of them die, it doesn’t hit you in any emotional way. Maybe the first act of this film could have developed these disposable and empty characters.

Anyway, Neo is blinded in the most ridiculous way ever and he has to fight a swarm of Sentinels using his “electro-psychic vision” or whatever the hell his blind Daredevil sense is called. But that fight is mainly just Trinity flying a ship, dodging Sentinels that Neo doesn’t explode with the Force because at this point, Neo is a blind Jedi master over technology or something.

Trinity dies, which makes all the “No Trinity don’t die!” bullshit of the previous film seem like a massive waste of time and bad storytelling.

Now the big battle between Neo and Mr. Smith within the Matrix is pretty awesome and the only real highlight of the film. Tech-Jedi Neo becomes ’90s Goth Club Superman and he and Mr. Smith both swing for the fences in an over the top CGI bonanza. This sequence works for me and it accomplishes what it set out to do tremendously well. However, it doesn’t excuse the other 90 percent of the film that made me want to stick my head into a wood chipper.

But hey, I survived. I’m not sure if Neo did, as it seemed unclear when Doctor Octopus arms carried him away like a half dead messiah.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Matrix films, as well as the slew of films from the early ’00s that ripped it off.

Film Review: Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985)

Also known as: Mad Max 3 (working title), Mad Max III (Philippines)
Release Date: June 29th, 1985 (Japan)
Directed by: George Miller, George Ogilvie
Written by: Terry Hayes, George Miller
Music by: Maurice Jarre
Cast: Mel Gibson, Tina Turner, Bruce Spence

Kennedy Miller Productions, Warner Bros., 107 Minutes

Review:

“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls… Dyin’ time’s here.” – Dr. Dealgood

I always thought of this as the worst of the original Mad Max trilogy. However, revisiting it now, just after watching the first two, I think I enjoyed it more than the original. In fact, I have a lot more appreciation for this film after watching it this time. Plus, it was the first time I had seen it since before Mad Max: Fury Road came out four years ago.

Now this doesn’t have the hard edge of the other films and it does feel like a Hollywood recreation of the franchise with a bigger budget, the addition of Tina Turner (a huge star at the time) and the larger scope of the movie. Those aren’t necessarily bad things, though, and I think that Hollywood sort of legitimizing this film series with a larger, more polished production, is probably what gave it the cultural longevity it’s had.

You also have to keep in mind that these films are really all that Mel Gibson was known for in 1985. Lethal Weapon and a much more lucrative, mainstream career didn’t come until 1987.

What makes this work so well, is the fact that Mel Gibson is so comfortable in this role by this point. Even though we got to know him in the first film, everything changes when his family dies and then in the second picture, he was sort of an unemotional husk with just a glimmer of humanity shining through. Here, that hard, outer husk is torn away and we’re left with a man that has found a way to live again. At least, he’s found a surrogate family and something that he must fight for. While that’s similar to the second film, it’s a much more fluid and human journey here. You don’t feel like he’s just playing the hero because it’s something to do and he hates scumbags, you actually sense love growing inside of him.

However, as much as I love Tina Turner in this, her being the primary villain also tames this movie when compared to the others. She kind of likes Max throughout the picture and she’s just a tough woman trying to maintain order in a town full of shady degenerates. She’s not pure evil like Lord Humongous, Toecutter or Immortan Joe and that kind of makes the threat in this film feel like a minor one.

Granted, the big finale which sees vehicle mayhem and the inclusion of a train car is still quite good. I don’t enjoy it as much as the finale from The Road Warrior but it is very close in quality to that one. In fact, this finale is better shot, looks crisper and has some stellar stunts. However, it is less gritty and thus, not as badass as the finale from the previous film. But it is fun seeing the kids in the film get in on the action during this big chase.

Speaking of the kids, there are a lot of them in this movie. But all the ones that have lines and are key characters are really good. This movie could have gone south really quickly with its overabundance of child actors but they certainly add more to the film than they take away.

This is definitely a film with three acts and each act has a very distinct feeling and tone to it. From a narrative standpoint, this is the best structured film and tells the best story out of all four Mad Max pictures.

Beyond Thunderdome gets a bad rap from some and while I wish it had been more of an R rated film than a PG-13 one, I’m still pretty satisfied with it and I think it’s aged pretty darn well.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: all the other Mad Max films, as well as other post-apocalyptic car and biker movies, most of which were ripoffs of this.

Film Review: The Road Warrior (1981)

Also known as: Mad Max 2 (original title), Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (US)
Release Date: December 24th, 1981 (Australia)
Directed by: George Miller
Written by: Terry Hayes, George Miller, Brian Hannant
Music by: Brian May
Cast: Mel Gibson, Bruce Spence, Mike Preston, Max Phipps, Vernon Wells, Emil Minty, Kjell Nilsson, Virginia Hey

Kennedy Miller Productions, Warner Bros., 96 Minutes

Review:

“Two days ago, I saw a vehicle that would haul that tanker. You want to get out of here? You talk to me.” – Max

The Road Warrior is a good example of a sequel being better than its predecessor. Some people might disagree but this was the best version of a Mad Max film until 2015’s Fury Road was released. But this is, in my opinion, the best of the original trilogy that starred Mel Gibson.

The world is pretty much destroyed in this film. While we saw a world on the brink of collapse in the first picture, by the time we get to this one, the world has been reduced to nothing but desert, as least as far as we know.

With that, the two most sought after commodities are water and oil. But here, oil is basically gold as those who can still run their machines, have a strong advantage over those who can’t.

The story sees Max discover a community that has a good amount of oil but they are being threatened by a vicious gang that looks more like barbarians than normal, well meaning people. The evil gang, led by Lord Humungus, keeps the community trapped behind their walls as they use their vehicles to run down anyone who comes outside. Max strikes a deal with the nice people being terrorized and we see him have to take on these vile villains in the most high octane way possible.

The Road Warrior is both barbaric and fantastical but still grounded in a sort of gritty reality. It came out just before the ’80s sword and sorcery trend took hold and while it has strong similarities to the genre, it doesn’t rely on magic and monsters but instead, machines and human monsters.

The movie feels otherworldly but not in a way that it doesn’t seem plausible or reflective of a possible future for humanity. Coming out during the Cold War, regardless of this being an Australian film, adds a natural heightened sense of fear. George Miller made something that effectively tapped into those societal and political concerns while also making just a badass action movie that has aged well, despite its weird fashion sense. But that ’80s punk meets new wave look also gives the film some of its charm.

While the film certainly doesn’t need to rely on Mel Gibson, his inclusion here adds and extra level of gravitas and personality to the picture. But I also have to give some credit to bad guy character actor Vernon Wells, as the mohawked savage Wez.

The Road Warrior is capped off by a twenty minute action finale that sees the greatest vehicular chase scene in cinematic history for its time. And frankly, it’s only really been upstaged by it’s later sequel Fury Road. I could say that maybe some movies have had better car chases but what gives this movie something special is how there is a variety of weird vehicles from cars, trucks, motorcycles and even a gyrocopter.

I love this movie. It’s one of the top action films of the ’80s and arguably, all-time. It’s simple, it’s tough and it gets the job done while surprising you along the way.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: all the other Mad Max films, as well as other post-apocalyptic car and biker movies, most of which were ripoffs of this.

Film Review: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

Release Date: December 1st, 2003 (Wellington, New Zealand premiere)
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Written by: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson
Based on: The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien
Music by: Howard Shore
Cast: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin, Cate Blanchett, John Rhys-Davies, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, Hugo Weaving, Andy Serkis, David Wenham, Karl Urban, Miranda Otto, Bernard Hill, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee (Extended Edition only), Brad Dourif (Extended Edition only), Bruce Spence (Extended Edition only), Sean Bean (Extended Edition only)

New Line Cinema, WingNut Films, The Saul Zaentz Company, 201 Minutes, 254 Minutes (DVD Extended Edition), 263 Minutes (Blu-ray Extended Edition), 192 Minutes (DVD Widescreen Edition)

Review:

“Hold your ground, hold your ground! Sons of Gondor, of Rohan, my brothers! I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day. An hour of wolves and shattered shields, when the age of men comes crashing down! But it is not this day! This day we fight! By all that you hold dear on this good Earth, I bid you stand, Men of the West!” – Aragorn

Having taken a break from seeing this for several years helped me look at this film, and the two before it, much more objectively. I loved this film when it came out and I watched the Extended Editions of all three films almost monthly for a few years. But I actually haven’t seen this now since before the first Hobbit movie came out in 2012.

My biggest takeaway from seeing it now is that this is a perfect film, at least in the form of the Extended Edition. There’s nothing I would change, add or take away from it. It is a great adaptation that took a few liberties but all those liberties worked and made this a richer story in a cinematic sense.

The acting is superb and everyone in this film was at the top of their game. But really, there are two actors who carried this film, Viggo Mortensen and Sean Astin. Mortensen was the perfect choice for Aragorn and if you aren’t willing to follow him into battle after watching this movie, you might be dead inside.

However, Sean Astin is the real star of this chapter in the franchise. As Samwise Gamgee, he is the true hero that sees things through. When Frodo, the one chosen to bear the burden of the ring is emotionally and physically drained, it is Sam who carries on, getting Frodo to the finish line by literally carrying him on his back up a flaming volcano. It’s one of the most badass and touching moments in motion picture history and really, all the credit has to go to Astin for just how damn good he was in this film. Where the hell was the Oscar nomination? I know that this was nominated for eleven Academy Awards and won all eleven but it was short one for Astin’s performance.

I also can’t deny the greatness that was Ian McKellen’s Gandalf in this chapter.

The special effects are still top notch and at the time that this came out, this film had the best effects of all-time. Everything was great over the course of all three movies but the grandiose scale of this epic picture called for a massive amount of effects work. Everything was executed masterfully and it’s almost unbelievable to think that these movies came out just a year apart from each other.

This is a story about friendship, honor and loyalty and it’s hard to think of a better example of these things in any other film. The Return of the King knocks it out of the park in that regard and is pretty inspirational because of it. It taps into the best qualities of human nature, overcomes immense adversity and sees hope and goodness succeed in the face of enormous and seemingly unconquerable darkness.

Again, The Return of the King is a pillar of perfection. It’s so good that I wish I could give it an 11 out of 10 rating.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: the other two Lord of the Rings films, as well as The Hobbit trilogy.