The Road Warrior Review
Review # 163
Director – George Miller
Cast – Mel Gibson, Bruce Spence, Emil Minty, Michael Preston
Filmed in Australia, The Road Warrior is a dirty, rough and tumble, bizarre gem of a movie, perfectly utilizing the Australian Outback’s harsh landscape. Mel Gibson returns to his star making role as “Max”, in what we know in North America as The Road Warrior, known everywhere else as Mad Max 2. The movie follows Max, a loner badass who wanders the desolate dystopian landscape searching for precious gasoline, which has become the only thing of value in this desperate world.
Being a sequel to a movie no one in America saw, we are brought up to speed in a brief prologue, summing up, if not the events, then the tone of the previous movie. Shrunk down to the center of the screen and shown in black and white, it offers the perfect contrast when we smash cut to a close up shot of Max’s wide, intimidating grill. From that moment on the movie kicks into high gear and floors it, right until the final shot.
And what a trip! What a bizarre, adrenaline pumping trip! I originally had no interest in this movie; the stupid looking punk outfits and hairdo’s made the whole thing look like B-level trash. But George Miller knew what to do with the material; he built a consistent world, shot it classy, and keep everything moving. Nothing is treated as if it’s crazy; which just goes to make the crazy stuff digestible.
It has a strangely touching sense of honour and pride about it too. The characters (except for our lead, at the beginning anyway) believe in things, we can sense it. There is a ragtag group who Max falls in with, and we can see that he longs for their family warmth. He deserts them initially, but then comes back. Whether or not he stays is truly at the heart of the character. Well, calling Max a character may be a bit of an overstatement. He’s The Man With No Name, down under. Clint Eastwood, but fallible.
The Road Warrior is fun, fast, and has production values it shouldn’t have gotten in a logical world. It’s no wonder that this series launched Mel Gibson to international stardom. George Miller made a unique movie here. Recommended to action fans, sci-fi fans, and fans of a good time.
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Agree? Disagree? Feel free to leave your comments below!
Review # 162
Director – John Huston
Cast – Michael Caine, Sylvester Stallone, Max von Sydwo, Pele, Maurice Roëves, Tim Pigott-Smith, Julian Curry
There is a lot of cross over between sports films and POW films. Sports films invariably feature an under dog team who are disadvantaged in some way (Remember the Titans, We Are Marshall, Bad News Bears) playing the arrogant douche-bag team. And of course, POW films inevitably pit the good ol’ Allies against “The Huns” or “The Japs”. To combine the two was either a stroke of genius or an awful idea. The problem with Victory! is that it isn’t sure which of those options got decided on. It’s luke warm, and thus will be spat out, as the saying goes.
Plot-wise, a German officer (Max von Sydow) decides to challenge the prisoners under his watch to a game of soccer, POW’s vs. guards. Once the German higher-ups hear about this they decide it will be a great propaganda move, and decide to allow Colby (Michael Caine) to round up the best soccer players held as captives in Europe, and form a team to play the German national team in Paris. Meanwhile, Hatch (Sylvester Stallone) plans an escape to occur during the halftime of the game, aided by the local Resistance.
The movie is of two minds – there is the rather carefree, fun sports movie firstly. This is the movie that Michael Caine heads. It is interesting, fun, and a touch cheeky. Stallone heads the other side – the side that deals with the Resistance, escaping POW’s, and dangerous escapes. These topics (and the associated tones) don’t necessarily clash… but somehow they found a way. To make it worse the team decides halfway through the game to not even escape, rendering half of the movie pointless. Then to top it all off we have a ridiculous ending that is vague, un-earned, and that panders embarrassingly badly to Stallone. It has to be seen to be believed. My jaw literally dropped.
Plus the DVD print was awful. (Which brings to mind the famous joke “The portions were awful, and so small.)
Now that I’ve bitched about the ending, I must admit that the beginning had me along for the ride. We see Caine training his team, and Pele showing off his bicycle kick. Max von Sydow has a great role as the kindly but firm German head-of-camp, and the interplay between he and Caine is nice. Stallone has a subplot about his awful soccer skills that mostly works, but it would have worked better if Stallone had been content to let the movie be an ensemble piece, too. Really, the whole movie would have worked better. You can practically hear him off-screen, getting himself more screen time. But come on… did he really need a romantic interest here? Did he need to save the game in slow motion?
On the other hand you have to admire him though. We never saw Schwarzenegger trying to go so far out of his comfort zone. I’ve always admires Stallone for that… he knew what he did well, but didn’t mind trying out something new once in a while. Let’s see Chuck Norris lose 40 pounds to work with a director like John Huston. No siree, bob!
Victory! is a movie that more or less fails, despite a decent first half and a surprisingly kinetic soccer game at the end. There are quite a few British actors in the background who would become standby’s of UK film; people like Tim Piggot-Smith and Maurice Roëves. Julian Curry even makes an appearance, and it’s great to see the actor known mostly for the excellent Rumpole of the Bailey series get some work.
But unfortunately the movie can’t find the right tone, miscasts Stallone horribly, and hands us a ludicrous ending. So much for that!
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A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy Review
Director – Woody Allen
Cast – Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, Jose Ferrer, Julia Hagerty, Tony Roberts, Mary Steenburgen, Adam Redfield
A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy lies somewhere in between those examples. It is not a Great Film to be sure, but not every movie has to be. Here we have a breezy, light, slightly fantastical take on romance, all done in Allen’s unmistakable style.
The story concerns a group of friends, three couples, who rent a house out in “the country” to spend a small vacation together. Of course each person finds themself desiring a member of another couple, and hijinks ensue. People climb out of windows, meet in wooded glades, and deal with the inevitable confusions and mixups that it all entails. It is all very laid back, but has a dry wit and enough imagination to keep it flowing nice and smoothly.
Allen also adds some strangely fantastical elements. A subplot which becomes a bit more relevant towards the end of the movie concerns spirits, and Allen’s inventor character even has a bicycle powered flying machine. Does it all quite fit? No, but we don’t care. Ferrer is funny in a strangely funny and sympathetic “old leche” role, and the cinematography is lush and vibrant. Woody Allen doesn’t normally do movies in natural settings, and purposefully wanted to try something different here, despite his self-professed hatred of anywhere outside of a city.
All in all, the movie is best described by its title. It is as relaxed, warm, and modest in ambition as a lazy, hot summer late-afternoon. It aspires to nothing more, and while it may not achieve too much, it is comforting and pleasant. I wish there were more movies like this.
Don’t expect a huge amount from A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy, but it is a sweet 90 minutes. Woody Allen has made better, to be sure, but he has also made much worse. This may not be a ringing endorsement, but is in no way an insult. Pleasant is the best word for this movie, just pleasant.
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The War of the Roses
Director – Danny DeVito
Cast – Michael Douglas, Katherine Turner, Danny DeVito, Dan Castalenetta
There hasn’t been a darker comedy made about marriage than 1989’s The War of the Roses. It is deliciously evil in its view of love; it would make an awful date-movie (or, to a discerning couple, perhaps a great one). This is essentially the anti-When Harry Met Sally.
Danny DeVito’s brilliantly twisted movie follows the Roses, a married couple whose relationship, for one reason or another, falls apart in dramatic and spectacular fashion. Turner’s character finds herself bored with her status as housewife to a rich business man, while Douglas feels shackled by a wife who doesn’t understand the financial game. When she admits to feeling relieved when he goes to the hospital after suffering a serious heart attack, the tension comes to a head. She files divorce papers, but he digs up an obscure law with the help of his lawyer friend (DeVito), that says he may stay in the house if he wants. They divide the house in half, and start to make each others life hell. It is here that the movie really takes off.
The back and forth between the two slowly builds up, until they are doing absolutely awful things to each other; she locks him in the sauna, so he urinates in a soup she is serving to distinguished friends… he (accidentally) runs over her cat, so she crushes his small foreign car with her truck… and so on and so on. It is a testament to the gradual crescendo brought about by careful direction that we don’t question the increasingly absurd lengths the couple goes through.
The movie is told through the eyes of Danny DeVito’s lawyer character, who tells this story to a client (a silent role played by Dan Castalenetta) who is contemplating divorce. This framing device helps greatly with the tone of the story. If we were shown the “war” after getting to know the Roses we might feel more attached to them. Having the story recited keeps the whole affair at a comfortable arms length. If we were too close to them we would cry, not laugh. Not that there are a huge amount of laughs here, the humour is too dry for that. Like the best of British comedy, it’s really too good laugh at.
The War of the Roses is a darkly comic movie, well acted and directed. It may come across as bitter toward the concept of marriage, but it really is against couples who don’t fight to keep their marriage, and instead fight to get the better deal after the relationship. It does this in an endearingly twisted way.
Douglas and Turner’s third outing together (after the Romancing the Stone movies) is a great way to end their on-screen pairing. I definitely recommend this to anyone who can enjoy a bit of dark comedy.
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Director – Mel Brooks
Cast – Mel Brooks, John Candy, Rick Moranis, Bill Pullman, Daphne Zuniga
I had always heard of Spaceballs as one of those movies that, while not exactly critically well received, had a great cult fan base. With quotable lines, the trademark Mel Brooks sense of humour, and a shameless willingness to parody, lampoon, and generally mock the great science fiction epics, it is supposedly tailor-made for a nerds love.
Now, I consider myself a nerd. I have seen most, if not all, of the movies referenced in this movie. I like many of Mel Brooks movies. I love Blazing Saddles, and even the musical version of The Producers. Having said all that, I have to say Spaceballs is one of the most distressingly unfunny movies I have ever seen. It has a couple funny bits, I suppose, but nothing on par with the absurdist “Telegram for Mongo!”, or the satire of “Springtime for Hitler”. Heck, it doesn’t even have anything on par with the Blazing Saddles farting scene…
This movie mainly relies on what I call the “Sound-alike Joke”. An example of this dreaded beast is when we see an oozing mass of melted cheese and pepperoni slide into frame and announce himself as “Pizza the Hutt”… or when Lord Dark Helmet says he is a Master of The Schwartz. I suppose we are meant to laugh because Pizza the Hutt sounds like Jabba the Hutt, and The Schwartz like The Force… well, it’s supposed to be funny.
I did find a couple of scenes mildly funny I guess… John Hurt’s chest-burster scene was nice, and there was a fairly well done scene where the bad guys located the good guys by bringing out their own VHS copy of Spaceballs and fast forwarding it to the correct part; and anytime spent riffing on Princess Vespa’s (Leia’s) hair is well spent.
John Candy and Rick Moranis appear, apparently because it’s the 90’s and, well, future archeologists have to be able to date it somehow. Bill Pullman (Paxton? Something like that…) is there as well. Joan Rivers does the voice of Dot Matrix (C-3P0), and this is a blessing; mainly because if you didn’t see her in the credits you might not think of sullying her reputation with this.
Mel Brooks, where have ye gone!? Oh, there you are; walking out on your knees in green face paint and floppy ears, proclaiming yourself to be the great and wise Yogurt…
To put it bluntly I found Spaceballs to be lazy, reliant almost entirely on tired jokes, and it just felt bland and dry. Brooks seems to have lost his energy, his impeccable timing, and apparently his sense of humour. Well, at least we still have The Producers!
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Director – Terry Gilliam
Cast – Jonathan Pryce, Kim Greist, Michael Palin, Robert de Niro, Katherine Helmond, Bob Hoskins, Ian Holms, Jim Broadbent
I had always heard of Brazil as one of Terry Gilliam’s better films and a definite cult movie. I love dystopian sci-fi like Children of Men and 1984, and while I didn’t know Gilliam very well, I recently purchased a box set of his movies and I look forward to exploring even more of this divisive film-makers work. Brazil was, I think, my first Gilliam movie to watch all the way through, and boy was I off to a good start.
Brazil is a dystopian movie, but it has a wonderful dose of charm and quirk that I understand is Gilliam’s trademark. While it is dark and gloomy from a visual standpoint, it clips along at a lovely pace, and has a great set piece or two sprinkled in there as well, interspersed with some wonderful acting from Jonathan Pryce, the ever reliable Ian Holms, and specifically Michael Palin.
We follow Sam Lowry, played by Jonathan Pryce (a great actor who also appears in movies as varied Evita, Tomorrow Never Dies, and the Pirates of the Caribbean series) as he maneuvers his way through life in a dystopian future. He dreams often of a specific girl, and he finally finds her only to realize she may be associated with a terrorist group. The movie mainly concerns itself with Lowry’s journey towards and with this fantasy woman, as he fights the ridiculous, suppressive, and ineffective bureaucracy that turns its citizens into soulless machines.
Having since watched a few of his other movies, I think I have found that Gilliam often has a problem with keeping a story coherent and focused, and frankly there is a bit of that here. However it is not as prominent in, say, The Brothers Grimm or The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. And really there is a lot of charm (damn I’m overusing that word, sorry) in Gilliam’s helter skelter method. It comes across much like your grandfather when he rambles on and on with some story. Except, how cool would it be to have your grandpa talk about dystopian societies with vivid dream sequences and on-the-nose social satire? Brazil cool, that’s how cool.
Brazil is Gilliam at his best. The satire of the movie is great, and the imagination on display greatly rewards repeat viewings. This is the kind of movie that isn’t for everyone, but should be. Highly recommended. Oh! And this movie is where that Wall-E music comes from!
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The Right Stuff REVIEW
Director – Phillip Kaufman
Cast – Fred Ward, Dennis Quaid, Ed Harris, Scott Glen, Sam Shepard, Barbara Hershey, Lance Henrikson, Veronica Cartwright, Jane Dornacker
There are subtle films, and then there are crowd-pleasing bombastic films. Subtlety is generally prefered, with critics usually “docking points” for the more in-your-face movies. However The Right Stuff is one of those rare movies that wears its colours on its sleeve proudly and for all to see, and yet gets away with it. I have never felt so good about a movie that is so “pro-American” (whatever that means any more), so in-your-face, and even so corny (in places).
The Right Stuff follows both Chuck Yeager and a group of young pilots who are chosen to be the first American astronauts. After a rigorous test screening (and amidst heavy rivalry between the Air Force and Navy pilots), seven pilots are chosen for the Mercury program. Among them are cocky Cooper (Dennis Quaid), uneasy Grissom (Fred Ward), “do-gooder” Glenn (Ed Harris), and tough Shepard (Scott Glen). Others are Carpenter, Schirra, and Slayton, but we really pay any attention to them. The film focuses heavily on their general cocky attitudes, their fervent self-belief, and their optimistic nature, all-in-all, the titular “Right Stuff”.
This movie idolizes its main characters, and the characterization is neither very deep or very distinct. This is perhaps a good thing however, as we are shown them as the embodiment of every young boys fantasy of pilots or astronauts. These are the men we should all strive to be, the movie seems to tell us. Frankly we don’t disagree, as most of us have always wanted to be these guys.
And while it is true that the men are cocky, it is because they need to be. The cocky attitude is in someway a cover, as is subtly revealed in the final scenes of the film. As one character puts it when it is mentioned that monkeys were the prefered cargo for the original flights, ” Monkeys? You think a monkey knows he’s sittin’ on top of a rocket that might explode? These astronaut boys they know that, see. Well, I’ll tell you something, it takes a special kind of man to volunteer for a suicide mission, especially one that’s on TV.” That quote puts the film in nutshell.
A note on the music. It was composed with inspiration by The Planets Suite by Gustav Holst. This is all fine and dandy, and the music itself is quite good, but in places it copies The Planets to a note, but then abandons it after a few seconds. I personally found this very distracting, as I constantly expected the music to go somewhere but it instead veered off course. The real Planets Suite would have worked well, I wonder why they didn’t just use that…
The Right Stuff is a movie that certainly wears its heart on its sleeve, but it has more than enough humour, guts, and yes, heart, to pull it through. The actors do wonders with the minimal characterization they are given. Watch out for a young Harry Shearer and Jeff Goldblum as two naive and in-over-their-heads bureaucrats. The special effects are astounding, especially for their time. The movie is an unabashed heart-warmer. I find that I tend to see these movies as frivolous, as below the meaning of true art. That is dangerously close to pretension, and with that in mind I find myself fully recommending this film.
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Director – James Cameron
Cast – Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Carrie Henn, Lance Henrikson, William Hope, Paul Reiser
– follows Alien
– followed by Alien 3
Ridley Scott’s Alien is regarded (rightly so, in my opinion), as one of the greatest science fiction and horror films. With a mix of suspense and scares, it successfully blended genres in a way not always succesful in other films. James Cameron, fresh off of the success of The Terminator, directed the sequel, Aliens, and he came up with quite a movie indeed.
While Alien went with the suspense angle, Aliens tells a similar story except in a more action/thriller vein. The “space truckers” from the first movie are here replaced with Marines, and where Ripley (played by Sigourney Weaver) in the first movie was forced to use her wits and whatever tools at hand to defeat a “zenomorph” alien, here she has a squad of men armed with flamethrowers, machine guns, and futuristic vehicles to fight a whole hive of them. Hijinks ensue.
Aliens is well paced, with each scene having a distinct purpose. It ticks along like clockwork, scarcely missing a beat. In fact, if I was to have any complaint, it is that it is, in fact too “clock-worky”. There isn’t as much time given for suspense as I would have liked, but this criticism treads dangerously close to the fallacy of comparing two films who were essentially of two different genres.
The main character of Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver, is one tough cookie, and is often credited as pretty much the first female action hero. In fact Weaver herself referred to Ripley in this film as “Rambolina”. But Cameron takes care not to just whitewash her as another McClane or Rambo. She is given a heart and a personality. Note the way she reacts to being told her child is dead, the way she dislikes the gung-ho idiots among the Marines, the way she becomes a sort of surrogate mother to an abandoned child. We are fully convinced of her personality, which makes the “Get your hands off her, you bitch!” moments all the more thrilling to see.
It would be amiss to not mention the way Cameron treats the military in this movie though, and really, in all his movies. They are all either harsh and butch, or cocky and whiny, and either way they’re annoying as hell. It got to the point where I almost wanted to fast-forward through scenes where they were talking etc. From Aliens to The Abyss to Avatar, he may as well have copy and pasted his military characters. It is essentially a pre-teens fantasy of gun-toting he-men. I would have liked a more professional, grounded look at the men, but I guess I mustn’t quibble.
Aliens is an excellent action movie, that combines scares and thrills in a great way. The characters are well fleshed out (saving the army dudes), and Sigourney Weaver as Ripley is iconic. The movie will carry you on a ride which you won’t mind going on again and again. Highly recommended.
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