Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Mad Max (1979, Movie Review)

      So, there’s going to be a new Mad Max movie in summer 2015, because things are all about reboots of popular franchises now days right. Well, as annoying as the constant reboots and remakes get, this one doesn’t bother me too much. First of all, it’s being done by George Miller, the exact same director, writer and producer of the original. Second, and in all honesty, I never really liked the 1979 Sci-Fi classic “Mad Max” starring Mel Gibson. It had its highlights to be sure, and was a big influence on films at the time, but I don’t think it’s aged well as a truly great classic. The sequel “Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior” certainly has, but I’m just looking at the first film to see how much of it really holds up. This is all subject to personal opinion obviously, so if you’re one of the many people that liked this film, good for you, I’m glad you enjoyed this, but personally, I just never cared for it.

         Our movie is set in Australia, in an un-labeled, not to distant dystopian future. Most of the Outback has been reduced to low-populated communities with minimal fuel and small towns, but many people seem to be living peacefully. The only problem is a gang of psychotic motorcycle riding serial killers called The Acolytes who dominate the streets and terrorize all innocent civilians in their path. The only thing that stands in their way is the Main Force Patrol, which is all that remains of law and justice in the country. The best man on the job is none other than Mad Max, who always cleans up the street. One day he goes too far and kills one of the lead gang members, to which the Acolytes respond to with vengeance. Soon officers of the MAP are becoming targets and Max himself gets it the worst as the gang members kill his wife and infant child. Full and rage and vengeance, Max takes to the street as the Road Warrior to hunt down and eliminate the Acolytes once and for all.

    That may sound like a short synopsis of the film, but surprise ... it’s actually the bulk of the movie. Max doesn’t even suit up to take vengeance until the final 15 minutes or so of the film. It actually feels more like a pilot episode for a TV series that never happened. The majority of the movie spends most of its time with the villains doing their awful and curl acts to innocent people, while building up to Max’s inevitable tragedy that turns him into the Road Warrior. But like I said, that doesn’t last long and the film kind of montages its way through Max’s actual vengeance. Now there are some highlights here and there, the slow build up to the demise of Max’s family was pulled off very effectively and there’s obviously some cool stunt work.

      The best scene of all is the opening car chase, which puts you in the mindset that you’re going to be watching a fast paced thrill ride of a movie. No joke, the car crashes and driving choreography in this opening is a real spectacle and it’s shot beautifully. While it may seem a touch generic by today’s standards, it was still an impressive feat of over the top stunt work and vehicle destruction for its time. Too bad there really aren’t too many note worth action scenes after this. The opening chase also serves as a great introduction to our main character as he spends most of the time acting all chill while listening to the chase progress on his radio. Then when everyone else fails to do their jobs, Max goes out riding to get the job done, which is easily his most bad ass moment of the film.

     I suppose I should talk about the character himself, who quickly became the archetype for most action characters of this sort. Max is a guy who questions his humanity and fears that he’s becoming too much like the villains he’s battling, unfortunately, the issue isn’t brought up much, and once he becomes the Road Warrior, he pretty much just throws all humanity out the window and becomes a vengeful psycho path. It’s a formula that I just find all too familiar and conveyed more effectively in other popular characters. Aside from the opening scene, I honestly didn’t even find Max to be that much of a bad ass, at least until the sequels. He’s played by a now unrecognizable Mel Gibson, back when he was a young and more respected actor. He plays the role of Max well, but he doesn’t leave that much of an impression either. I think it was more the novelty of the film that made this a highlight in his carrier, rather than a stirring performance that deserves acclaim.  

      I will say that Director George Miller is on top of his craft when directing this film. He definitely knows how to shoot a car chase, as well as create an uncomfortable atmosphere for this dystopian setting. Aside from all the “Mad Max” sequels, George Miller is best known for directing and writing family movies like “Happy Feet” and “Babe”, which is personally one of my favorite childhood gems of all time, so he’s undeniably a talented and versatile filmmaker. I also have to admire the subtlety of this apocalyptic future the film creates. Most movies with this type of setting go all out with demolished cities, and fields of dead bodies with rows of skulls everywhere, but this film is very different. In fact, it’s probably the cleanest and tidiest looking apocalyptic future ever captured on film, heck it doesn’t even feel like a Sci-Fi. If you just caught a glimpse of this film on TV, you’d probably just assume it takes place in some generic outback area instead of a dystopian future.   

      Whenever I review a critically acclaimed film like this, I always do my best to point out the positives, but unfortunately, I have far more negatives that really way the movie down. I obviously don’t care for the structure of the plot, and there’s very little about the overall experience that makes it worthwhile. Other films like “Robocop”, “The Terminator” and “Die Hard” have their fair share of over the top violence and action bonanzas, but I also feel like there’s more substance to those films that balance everything out, as well as more strait forward entertainment. I can’t stand the villains in this movie, while the Acolytes are functional as threatening bad guys, there also way too over the top and cartoony for the films own good. I also really hate the ending, which just seems to stop the movie on a dime. Seriously, after montage-ing its way through the climax, the film comes to a sudden stop that always leaves me wondering what the heck I just sat through.   

      In 1981, there was a sequel titled “Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior”, and this film was excellent. This is the movie that always came to mind when I thought of Mad Max, because it further explored the character and the apocalyptic setting actually felt like an apocalyptic setting. The characters were more memorable, the story was much stronger, and the action scenes involving vehicle destruction were nothing short of awesome. The movie actually begins with a recap of the first film and highlights all the best parts, so you can actually just skip the first film and go right to the sequel without missing anything, at least that’s what I’d recommend doing. Then in 1985 there was another sequel titled “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome”, which wasn’t quite as good as its predecessor, but still a worthy follow up and a fitting conclusion to the series. Of course there’s going to be the new film titled “Mad Max: Fury Road” in 2015, which has some potential, and boasts a good cast, but I suspect it will be nothing more than a mindless, over exploitive action fest that’s just trying to capitalize on the popularity of the original series.


     As for the 1979 original, I really don’t hate it, I just don’t care to watch it. It has its fare share of improbable car stunts and crashes that were very impressive for the time and still cool to see, but I can’t say that the movie as a whole really works, at least it doesn’t for me. The movie just has this really stale and depressing overtone, with little incite or thought provoking themes, and it just isn’t entertaining enough to pass as derivative, mindless entertainment either. I know a lot of people love this movie and regarded it as a Sci-Fi classic, but I don’t think I’ll be watching this again anytime soon. There are just a million other bad ass action characters and films that I’d rather watch instead, or heck, just stick with the sequel because that’s far superior.   

                                            I give “Mad Max” 2 Stars out of 5.       

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Dance Scenes in Non-Dancing related Movies (My Top 10 Favorites)

With energetic music, sharp choreography and maybe even subtle character interaction, who doesn’t love a good dance number? Well ... I obviously love dance scenes from movies. I love the energy, I love the style, I love the music, so why not celebrate this art with a countdown. However, there’s going to be a little twist to this list because I’m counting down my top 10 personal favorite dance scenes from movies that have absolutely nothing to do with dance or music. Their completely out of the blue, but just as entertaining as any classic dance number from a real musical.

10. “Anything Goes” from “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” 

Those of you familiar with the Indiana Jones series know that the second installment titled “Temple of Doom” is the darkest and most sinister entry in the series, with the most disturbing imagery, scariest segments and harshest tone. So what could possibly be a more fitting way to open this film then a Broadway Style musical number that looks more fitting for something like “Singing in the Rain”. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an opening segment more out of place and tone then this opening song number titled “Anything Goes”, but that’s why it’s so brilliant. It’s the perfect bait and switch. It also serves as a proper introduction for the films lead heroin, and despite being so random and out of place with the overall tone of the film, it somehow just works.   

9. “Bustin' Surfboards” from “Pulp Fiction” 

This is probably the most famous dance scene to ever be featured in a non-dance related movie. Why then is it only at number 9, because there’s eight others that I personally like more, but that’s not going to keep me from mentioning this on my countdown. When a notorious street gangster takes his girl friend out to dinner, she decides to liven things up by participating in a small dance tournament to win a gold trophy. Of course John Travolta is well know from classic musicals like “Grease” and “Saturday Night Fever”, so it’s no surprise that he shares the stage in this scene. The strait serious faces of our dancing duo perfectly offset the songs light hearted nature and the scene itself is a subtle detour into a cheerful place before some of the characters find themselves staring at deaths door. It’s simply a memorable moment from this Quentin Tarantino classic. 

8. After Dark from “From Dusk Till Dawn” (1996)

Okay, so this particular dance number is very different, and much hotter than the others. The 1996 action horror movie “From Dusk Till Dawn” begins as a serious crime thriller, then mid way it becomes the equivalent of a drive-in monster movie. This random dance marks the transition between the two tones. With a seductive musical score, great staging, and the oh so attractive Salma Hayek leading the scene, it makes this pointless little dance scene one that’s easy to remember.

7. The Fox Chase from “Darby O' Gill and the Little People” 

Disney has given us plenty of memorable song and dance numbers from their live action musicales, but one of their absolute best dance scenes comes from their 1959 Irish fantasy “Darby O' Gill and the Little People”. While the movie isn’t devoid of songs, it’s by no means a musical like “Mary Poppins”. Never the less, the stand out dance number occurs at the close of the first act, when the title character Darby O’Gill is invited into the cave of the Leprechauns. After winning their hospitality, he treats them to some music on his violin, a piece called “The Fox Chase”. What follows is a massive dance party on a small Leprechaun scale, they pool off crazy stunts, bounce all over the place, ride leprechaun sized horses, and it’s just a really fun scene. The music is lively, the effects are unbelievable, and it’s right up there with the “Stepping Time” scene from “Mary Poppins” as one of my favorite dance numbers to be featured in a family film.

6. “Staying Alive” from “Airplane!” 

This will always be one of my favorite comedies ever, because it satirizes everything you can think of. When our lead passenger named Ted Striker has nostalgic flashbacks of when he met the girl he loves, we’re treated to a silly, energetic dance number that’s a direct spoof of “Saturday Night Fever”, right down to the white dance suit and music from the Bee Gees. The song “Staying Alive” has always been one of my personal favorites, and it’s even more fun when mixed with all the goofy comedy and over the top dance choreography that this scene provides. I would say that it’s my favorite dance parody of all time, but we’re only at number 6 on my count down, and there’s plenty of silly dance numbers on the way.   

5. Johnny B Goode from “Back to the Future” 

It’s a time honored tradition that any High School themed movie has a breakout dance number, and my personal favorite by far is Johnny B Goode from “Back to the Future”. When Marty Mcfly travels back in time and accidently prevents his parents from meeting, he has to use his sly wit and skill to get them to fall in love all over again, and his final touch to bring his parents back together involves an electric guitar and an enchanting dance. This really is one of the greatest dance numbers ever because it’s the climax of the movie, and even when Marty succeeds in getting his parents back together, he continues to rock on his guitar, as if to celebrate his triumph. That’s exactly how I’d describe this, it’s a triumphant finally with a Rock ’N good song to boot.    

4. “Dancing with Elena” from “The Mask of Zorro” 

This is just another perfect example of an adventure epic taking a little break from all the action and giving us an awesome dance number instead. When Zorro attends the party of his greatest enemy under the guise of a respectable gentleman, he takes full advantage of the situation by taking control of the dance floor and sharing a duet with his beautiful love interest Elena. This is just a really sexy scene, with excellent music, style and terrific choreography. James Horner conducted the music in this film, and his track for this dance is just the perfect variety of music to go with such spirited dancers. It’s short, it’s simple, it adds a little extra flavor to this awesome film and other adventure epics should really take notes from this.  

3. “Twist and Shout” from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” 

Ferris Bueller is the cool teenage high school dude who can get away with anything. Cheat your way out of school for a day ... check, weasel his way into an expensive restaurant under the guise of a rich guy that had reservations ... check, get on top of a parade float dancing to music from the Beatles in front of a whole city of Chicago ... check and double check. Yes, Ferris Bueller’s parade float dance is one of the best, spontaneous dance scenes ever, emphasizing how untouchable he is while getting everyone in the city to twist and shout along with him in this upbeat musicale number. It’s hard to explain why, but there’s something relentlessly cheerful about seeing all the people of Chicago join Ferris in his dance, and to this day, it still puts a big grin on my face.  

2. “Jai Ho” from “Slumdog Millionaire” 

I don’t think there’s ever been a cooler way to wrap up a movie then with a fully choreographed dance sequence like this one featured at the end of the 2008 motion picture “Slumdog Millionaire”. The movie as a whole focuses on the drama and hardships of a young Indian boy who really hasn’t had the best life, but fortune smiles on him at the end when he win’s the Indian version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” and is reunited with the love of his life. The following dance number is his triumphant celebration that boasts incredible music and it’s the perfect offset to the films mostly down beat and realistic tone. Set to the Oscar Award winning song Jai Ho, this dance number serves as the Outro of the film, playing over the closing credits, but it’s the perfect high note to end the film on.

Before I revial my #1 favorite spontaneous dance number, here are my Honorable Mentions: Spontaneous dance numbers from ... 

The Jungle Book (1994)

True Lies 

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part 1

Napoleon Dynamite

Never Say Never Again

1. “Hey! Pachuco!” From “The Mask” 

Lets wrap up my countdown with a dance number that’s positively S-S-S-S-SMOKIN! With Jim Carry’s bombastic energy, Cameron Diaz blowsy appeal, some seriously upbeat music and overall cartoony hummer, how could this not take my number one spot? The song titled “Hey! Pachuco!” was performed by Royal Crown Revue, the same talents who started the Swing Revival movement that renewed popular interest in Swing and jump blues music back in the early 90’s and late 2000’s. Of course, they hit it out of the park with this song, and everything else on display is nothing short of awesome. I love the energy, I love the angles, I love the choreography and I love the overall fun factor that’s put on MAX. This movie will always be a treasured gem from my child hood, and this is personally my favorite spontaneous dance number to be featured in a non-dance related film.