Comic Review: Mad Max: Fury Road

Published: May 20th, 2015 – August 5th, 2015
Written by: Nico Lathouris, Mark Sexton, George Miller (story)
Art by: Peter Pound
Based on: Mad Max: Fury Road by George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, Nico Lathouris

Vertigo Comics, DC Comics, 151 Pages

Review:

Typically, movie adaptation comics aren’t very good. Sometimes one will surprise you. But I guess that this one is unique in that it isn’t an actual adaptation of Mad Max: Fury Road but is instead, an anthology prequel that follows some of the main characters, establishing their backstories before the events of the film.

Also, these stories come from George Miller himself. Now I’m not sure how involved he was with this, as he could’ve written a very detailed outline or this could have just been taken from his notes when he wrote the film. Either way, the finished product is damn good for fans of the movie and the franchise.

This also confirms that this Max is the same Max that Mel Gibson played and that all the films do share continuity. It delves into Max’s previous tales to add context to where the man is by the time Fury Road starts. And with that, his story here also comes with some extra tragedy to help set the stage for Fury Road.

What’s also interesting, is that this comic has ties to the video game continuity, as the big bad from the 2015 game is seen within the pages of this comic and is referred to by name. You even have an understanding of where he stands in the bigger picture alongside Immortan Joe.

The plots of all the stories here are intriguing and I’d say that this is a must read if you want a fuller experience than just what you get with the film. I love added context and none of this seems like it was done just to cash in on the film’s success, as the people behind this cared about the movie and the world its characters inhabit.

I really dug the art style too, as it felt in tune with the movie but also had an older, grittier pulpy feel to it. I liked the muted colors and the high contrast. Emotions were conveyed well on the faces of the characters and while it may feel somewhat understated, it’s pretty damn perfect and gets the job done.

Sadly, I bought and read this digitally, as I was unsure about it. Now that I’ve read it and loved it, I’m going to round up the single floppy issues.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the Mad Max movies, specifically Fury Road. Also, the 2015 Mad Max video game.

Film Review: Breaker! Breaker! (1977)

Release Date: April 1st, 1977
Directed by: Don Hulette
Written by: Terry Chambers
Music by: Don Hulette, Terry Chambers, Denny Brooks
Cast: Chuck Norris, George Murdock, Terry O-Connor, Michael Augenstein, Jack Nance

Paragon Films, Worldwide Distributing, American International Pictures, 86 Minutes

Review:

“I’m gonna stick ya!” – Hillbilly

I had to watch the RiffTrax version of this film as it was too dull and dreadful to watch without riffing. And to quote Mike Nelson from the RiffTrax version, “David Lynch saw this movie and said, “What the Hell?””

If you are a hardcore Chuck Norris fan, you’ll probably still hate this movie. It’s that bad.

This is what happens when you take the quickly played out trucker genre from ’70s cinema and mix it up with Chuck Norris before most people knew who he was. Hell, Norris barely even talks in this film. He mostly just stares as the camera zooms in on his face Bruce Lee style.

This film is batshit crazy but not the kind of batshit crazy that makes it awesome or at the very least, worthwhile. It’s baffling to watch and frankly, it’s a stupid fucking movie.

Hell, at the end, a bunch of truckers are told over the CB radio that some shit’s going down in a small Cali town and they respond by driving to the town and then mowing down all the buildings with no care in the world if there are people inside… and there are! Basically, they are down to commit mass homicide just because they got some hot tip over the CB. Hell, it could be a damn prank for all they know but truckers have no morals, just truck stop breakfast and rest stop syphilis.

The highpoint of the film, which still sucks, is the final fight in the horse pen. It’s full of slow motion roundhouses and a horse locking eyes with Chuck in some sort of metaphorical way that isn’t clear. Maybe they’re old lovers? Anyway, Chuck kicks the scumbag to pieces and then the horse escapes to run wild because I guess I’m supposed to find some deep meaning in a movie that can only be compared to drowning in deep shit.

I don’t know what else to say, so fuck this movie.

Rating: 2.25/10
Pairs well with: other cheap-o trucker movies and other early Chuck Norris movies like A Force of One, Good Guys Wear Black and The Octagon.

 

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: Riding with Death (1976)

Also known as: Codename: Minus One (UK)
Release Date: 1976 (original episodes), 1981 (TV movie edit)
Directed by: Michael Caffey, Alan Crosland Jr., Alan J. Levi
Written by: Leslie Stevens, Steven E. de Souza, Frank Telford
Based on: Gemini Man TV series and The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells
Music by: Lee Holdridge, Mark Snow, Billy Goldenberg
Cast: Ben Murphy, William Sylvester, Katherine Crawford

Harve Bennett Productions, Universal Television, NBC, 97 Minutes

Review:

“You have any idea who those turkeys were?” – Sam Casey

This is another film that was featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 that wasn’t really a movie but was actually two television episodes edited into a feature length cut. And like the other examples of this terrible phenomenon, this was an atrocious and unwatchable mess.

However, there was a pretty amusing fight scene in the middle of the movie where one of the two main dork dicks was performing, got heckled and then a bar fight broke out featuring the other main dork dick using his mastery of invisibility to cheap shot rednecks.

Frankly, that weird bar fight is about all that I can even recall from this film that I just watched last night.

There were some sci-fi bits I guess, which is why the dude had invisibility powers, but this was such a mess it was hard not to zone out for most of this film.

I don’t know, unless you’re a hardcore MST3K completist, this one is really friggin’ hard to get through.

There’s trucker stuff, sci-fi wizardry, invisibility kung fu and acting so bad that everyone here could beat out Carrot Top for a Golden Raspberry Award.

As for the rating, it really gets a 1/10. I added that extra .75 for the invisibility kung fu.

Rating: 1.75/10
Pairs well with: Master Ninja I and II, Fugitive Alien I and IITime of the ApesMighty Jack and Cosmic Princess.

 

Film Review: Duel (1971)

Release Date: November 10th, 1971 (Canada)
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Richard Matheson
Based on: Duel by Richard Matheson
Music by: Billy Goldenberg
Cast: Dennis Weaver

ABC, Universal Pictures, 90 Minutes (theatrical cut), 74 Minutes (original television cut)

Review:

“The Killer’s Weapon – A 40 Ton Truck” – tagline

I have seen Duel in some form or in increments at least two dozen times. When I was a kid it was on TBS almost weekly. I always caught it in the middle, so I never really knew how the beef started in the film between the psycho in a truck and the wimpy salesman in a car, played by Dennis Weaver. However, the set up never really seemed to matter to me because this tapped into some sort of primal fear and eventually, into survival mode taking over. It wasn’t until now, in 2018, that I actually sat down and saw this thing in its entirety from start to finish.

The one thing that is the most amazing to me, is that this was originally a television movie. It has the production value of something much larger and it felt authentic to the trucker and car heavy movies of the time. This was shot incredibly well and the action was intense and real. They certainly couldn’t rely on CGI back then so the destruction you see is real destruction. The big final crash was incredible, as was the scene where the truck is doing doughnuts, bulldozing the reptile exhibit in an effort to prevent Dennis Weaver’s David Mann from calling the cops.

Spielberg showed great promise with this film, which was instrumental in him having the opportunity to make Jaws a few years later. While the film is action heavy, Spielberg showed incredible skill in story telling and employed a “less is more” strategy when building tension and suspense. This is a horror film and a thriller at its core but it is also a mystery film where the mystery actually goes unanswered. Who is this killer driver? Why is he so pissed off? But I guess it’s the not knowing why that makes this so impactful.

The part in the middle of the film where David is in the diner, analyzing all the men inside, trying to determine which one is the maniac trucker is slow, methodical and really drawn out. But it is done so to great effect and it is really the strongest and most important moment in the film. It’s the turning point where David gives in to his overwhelming paranoia and goes a bit nuts. And as intense as things were before the diner scene, that scene amplifies everything moving forward and the second half is a giant, uncomfortable ball of tension and terror.

On paper, you would think that a movie about a driver in a car being chased down by a killer truck is pretty one dimensional and stupid. While it is one dimensional, that is where the film finds its strength. It also addresses the fact that the truck is unusually fast. For whatever reason, David can’t outrun the hunter and that taps into a primal fear all living things have. The film really works well as metaphor and the ridiculous premise doesn’t really matter when things get going and you find yourself glued to this picture.

Duel is not a masterpiece or even a great film but it is a pivotal moment in the early career of Steven Spielberg and his imprint is all over the picture. Dennis Weaver had the tough task of carrying the entire film on his back but he was able to conquer that task with his superb performance and ability to feel like a genuine everyman, trapped in a mortal game of cat and mouse with a vicious and unrelenting predator.

I love this film. It’s badass, still kicks ass and was the real genesis of one of the greatest filmmakers of all-time, who would go on to shape an entire era of not just filmmaking but pop culture itself.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Another early Spielberg film, The Sugarland Express. Also pairs well with a myriad of car and trucker films from the ’70s and early ’80s, as well as the Stephen King film adaptations of Maximum Overdrive and Christine.

Film Review: Convoy (1978)

Release Date: June 28th, 1978
Directed by: Sam Peckinpah
Written by: B. W. L. Norton
Based on: the song “Convoy” by C. W. McCall
Music by: Chip Davis, C. W. McCall
Cast: Kris Kristofferson, Ali McGraw, Ernest Borgnine, Burt Young, Franklyn Ajaye

EMI Films, United Artists, 112 Minutes

Review:

“Piss on you, and piss on your law.” – Rubber Duck

Convoy came out during the heyday of car and trucker movies. While it isn’t as remembered as the iconic Smokey and the Bandit, I think that it is a better movie. It’s less comedic and more serious and therefore, not as marketable as Smokey but it has something to say, where Smokey was just a fun time.

While we don’t have Burt Reynolds or the always great Jerry Reed, we do get Kris Kristofferson playing a badass trucker with a trucker army. We also get Ernest Borgnine as a sheriff so evil he would probably frighten Jackie Gleason’s Buford T. Justice. Plus, Burt Young is also in this and I have to say, it is my favorite role he’s ever had after Paulie from the Rocky movies.

I would have to say that this probably popularized the use of CB radio outisde of the trucker community. It showed it as a cool sort of trucker subculture thing where everyone talked shit and had cool nicknames like “Rubber Duck”, “Love Machine” a.k.a. “Pig Pen”, “Spider Mike”, “Widow Woman”, “Big Nasty”, “Pack Rat”, “Cottonmouth”, “Old Iguana”, “Lizard Tongue”, “White Rat”, etc. I had friends well into the ’90s who were still using CB radios as their form of social media back before the Internet was bigger than AIM and Geocities communities.

Convoy follows Kristofferson’s Rubber Duck and his trucker buddies, who get harassed, entrapped and bullied by a crooked sheriff (Borgnine) and his cronies. The sheriff is literally mad with power but is always upstaged by the truckers he has targeted. Things escalate, the truckers take a stand against the crooked lawmen and we get a socially and politically conscious movie. However, Rubber Duck doesn’t even really know what he wants or even what to say when he becomes a leader to a growing convoy of pissed off truckers.

This is a film that’s message is very much a reflection of 1970s America, where we were in a sort of cultural limbo where authority wasn’t to be trusted and society started to question itself. This was just after Nixon and the Vietnam war and major racial tensions accented by riots and police brutality. But the film, like society, had no real answer for any of it. It shows us a group of people who are just sick of it all and pretty much say “fuck it.”

It’s funny though, because we do live in a world where people once again worship the police and the military. Sure, America is socially and politically segmented and not everyone blindly swallows the propaganda but films like this are a reminder that maybe we should question what the majority just accepts without any real thought. Or maybe I am seeing Convoy as a much deeper film than it was really intended to be but I don’t think so. Unfortunately, it is a message that seems lost today but should resonate just as loudly with police brutality being in the media so much more and with the countless wars we keep getting involved in.

But however you feel about these issues, this film does tap into that sentiment and when compared to Smokey and the Bandit or those other fun trucker and car movies of the ’70s, Convoy has something more to offer and is a more important film, even if a solution seems lost.

Rating: 8/10