Tag Archives: 1979

“MAD MAX” Review (✫✫)

You people are mad, alright. 

Sometimes I watch a movie and I wonder what purpose it’s supposed to serve in the world of cinema. Mad Max is one of those movies.

I’m not saying its either good or bad. I’m saying I don’t know what it’s supposed to be doing. Is it supposed to be social commentary? If so, the film actually needs to comment about something. Is it supposed to be a character study? The character needs to be either unique or fascinating then, but Mad Max himself is neither. Is it supposed to be just plain, dumb old entertainment? Well, by that logic, isn’t the film supposed to be entertaining?

The plot takes place in a semi-post-apocalyptic future where the police force’s power is dwindled and resourced into a new unit called the Main Force Patrol, which monitors highway crime like a cop and a speed detector. The best of these MFP’s is Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson), a highly-skilled driver who has a beloved wife and child at his home.

One day, after driving a murderous criminal into a barrel roll and an explosion after a high speed chase, Max is pursued by the criminal’s gang followers as they prepare to take on Max and the rest of the MFP. These guys do anything and everything to get under Max’s skin, from assaulting his friend Goose (Steve Bisley), to terrorizing a small town, to even killing Max’s wife and child. Now on a quest for vengeance, Max goes on a hunting spree, tracking down every gang member involved, not stopping until every single one of them paid for what they’ve done.

I know that paragraph sounds like the premise of the film, but really the two paragraphs I just typed could also count as a plot synopsis too. Oopsie! Did I spoil it much? I don’t think so. After all, is it still a spoiler if you see the so-called “twist” coming from a mile away?

The biggest problem I find with Mad Max is that there is too much buildup and not enough payoff. In the above synopsis I provided, it sounds like the perfect setup for an excellent movie. Yet in retrospect, I more or less described the entire plot of the film in less than 164 words. What happens in this movie? Just about what I described above, and little else. There’s no complex emotion with the film, no sense of urgency or immediacy to make us care for the movie or what’s going on in it. No, instead we get a bleak, lifeless film that sounds like a great studio pitch, but the final product doesn’t extend much further beyond the pitch itself. I think the studio execs involved were more fascinated with the idea itself than they were with carrying out the idea.

Oh, don’t get me wrong: Mel Gibson is as good in the role as the character will allow him to be. But the other part of this movie’s flimsiness is that the protagonist is as flat as the movie’s plot is. What’s the most interesting thing about Max Rockatansky? He’s a father and a husband. That’s it. He doesn’t have the charisma of James Bond, the grit of Harry Callahan, or even the smugness of Han Solo. No, Max Rockatansky has no defining characteristics as the lead protagonist: he’s just supposed to pose in his leather jacket next to his car with a big gun, and apparently that’s all he needs to be called an action hero.

Again, I ask: why did this movie have to get made? What purpose does it serve? Well, I read on a forum that writer-director George Miller wrote the movie after working in a hospital emergency room, supposedly inspired by the car crash victims he tended to. That’s all fine and dandy, but how does that translate into a film? The movie doesn’t have any clear motivations of what it wants to be, no clear idea as to what its themes are or how to express those themes. I didn’t get from the movie that Miller was trying to tell a cautionary tale about high-speed driving. In fact, I didn’t get much of anything from the picture. I just got a stereotypical action hero and his arc of vengeance that has been done better in numerous other movies before Mad Max. 

I’ll give the film one point, and one point only, for the stunts. With Miller being adamant about using 100 percent practical effects, everything you see on the screen genuinely happened. Cars barrel rolling and crashing spectacularly into other cars on the highway. Motorbikes flying off of bridges with the paint and metal ripping off of their surfaces. Vehicles blowing up in large, spectacular fashion. All of it was done with practical effects, and the film achieved the greatest visual result from it. Now if only the rest of the film could be just as practical.

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“ARGO” Review (✫✫✫✫)

“Argo”: The science-fiction epic that didn’t exist

In 1980, political instability and rebellion shook the grounds of Iran, a once prosperous city run dry by the greed and evil of its former shah, Mohammad Pahlavi.  When the U.S. agreed to house Pahlavi in southern California after he contracted cancer, the Iranian people stormed the U.S. Embassy in a furious rage and took everybody inside hostage.  Only six Americans escaped with their well-beings intact.

This is the true story of Argo, a political thriller based on the Iranian hostage crisis of 1980.  After barely escaping the U.S. embassy just before it is overran by Iranians, the Americans flee and take refuge inside Canadain Ambassador Ken Taylor’s (Victor Garber) house as social and political stability continues to crumble outside of the Taylor household. They remain stuck there for 69 days.

Enter the CIA. The intelligence agency plots ways to try and rescue the Americans and get them home to safety, but no luck. Their best ideas involve riding bicycles and meeting them at the border with gatorade. All hope seems lost until Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) hatches the idea of disguising the American’s as a film crew scouting for locations out in Iran. As the Secretary of State asks Tony Mendez, “You got any better bad idea than this?”

“This is the best bad idea we have sir. By far.”

Here is a movie that knows how to utilize suspense and tension to the fullest effect. Similarly to how Kathryn Bigelow sets up the stakes of the film within the establishing shot of the 2009 best picture winner The Hurt Locker, Argo similarly sets up its stakes with a tense, horrifying sequence of the Iranians overrunning the U.S. Embassy in the beginning shot. They jump over walls and tear down the gates as they storm through the front lawn. They break through doors and windows as they charge into the building, screaming as they hold up picket signs and crow bars. They bind their hostages in rope and cloth as they grab and shake them all while screaming into their ears and breaking furniture around them. In the world of film, the goal is to put audiences into the scene, into the moment of the picture. We are not just put into the environment of Iran in Argo: we are immersed in it.

At the same time though, this is a movie that knows how to expertly balance drama with humor and comedy. Two essential roles in this movie help achieve this: John Goodman as make-up artist John Chambers, and Alan Arkin as movie producer Lester Seigel. These two are the C-3PO and R2-D2 of filmmakers, a duo who argue and bicker over the smallest, funniest of details. In one scene where they were looking over scripts for the operation, Lester complains as to how they are all of poor quality.

John: “We’re making a fake movie here.”

Lester: “If we’re making a fake movie, I want it to be a fake hit.”

This is one of those rarities of films where it transcends merely being labeled as a “movie” and has graduated to being something as an “experience”.  Argo is a tense, nerve-wracking film.  It keeps you on the edge of your seat, cringing, waiting, teeth chattering, spine tingling with every tense moment of the film pulsating through your entire body.  Ben Affleck directs this film with alluring precision, utilizing jump-cuts and precise cutaways to the greatest effect during this American horror that is a true story.

Very few films match the precision and craftmanship that this film possesses.  Combine that with the film’s smart, witty dialogue, as well as its great spirit for humanity, and what you have is one of, if not, the best drama film of the year.

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