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!
John Carter Review
Review # 146
Director – Andrew Stanton
Cast – Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Willem Dafoe, Samantha Morton, Mark Strong, Cirian Hinds, Thomas Haden Church, Dominic West, James Purefoy
After Brad Bird’s excellent Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, the bar was set for Andrew Stanton. Another prominent Pixar director who was making the switch to live action, Stanton had found success with his Finding Nemo and Wall-E, two little films you just may have heard of. His entry to the live action realm is John Carter, an adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ classic sci-fi book A Princess of Mars. Featuring a Civil War veteran mysteriously transported to Mars, the book is a widely loved and admired piece of work. It is a pity that the movie is set to be anything but. Critics have been lukewarm at best towards it, and it has been savaged by the industry for its alleged massive budget. I doesn’t look to be gaining much of it back, either. Even comparisons to Ishtar have been made. Ouch.
Maybe the whole situation was just made worse by Bird’s excellent film preceding this by mere months. It built up expectations that in the end just couldn’t pay off. While Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol was witty, fast, and delivered exactly what it promised, John Carter is dry, derivative, and dull. Very, very dull.
The key issue is the writing, frankly. It’s expositional, stiff, and all about plot. We can’t get good characterization if every line is “We must get over there!”, or “The good guys have the blue flag, the bad guys the red!”. Several different Mars factions are shown, from humanoids to 9-feet tall four armed aliens. None of their motivations are extremely clear. Mark Strong heads one group, so they must be the bad guys. Poor Mark Strong, you do something well and that’s all they’ll hire you to do…
It doesn’t help that Taylor Kitcsh is miscast as the titular character, and growls out every line as if imitating Christian Bale’s Batman voice. “I am JOHN CARTER!” The strange voices aren’t limited to him though; Lilly Collins has an affected British accent that comes and goes with every other line. James Purefoy and Dominic West come out unscathed, as do the special effects team. In fact the special effects are excellent. The production design and the effects are without a doubt the best thing in the movie. The 3D is pointless though. Even Stanton has said he didn’t really want it or like it.
John Carter is dull, muddled, and at least half an hour too long. Characterization is flat and uninteresting, and while it does have a couple laughs and half way interesting moments (the sequence near the beginning where John is repeatedly arrested is a sign of where the movie could have gone), the rest of the movie is dry as dust. Not recommended for any but sci-fi addicts.
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The Exorcist: Extended Director’s Cut Review
Review # 141
Director – William Friedkin
Cast – Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair, Jason Millers, Max von Sydow, Lee J. Cobb, William O’Malley
– followed by Excorcist II: The Heretic
I am not a horror movie fan in general, and don’t expect to become one any time soon. I have a sneaking suspicion this is the result of all the torture porn out there, which isn’t true horror, in my opinion anyway. I just don’t like horror movies that rely on gore and/or jump moments for their effect. The horror movies I do like tend to inspire not so much horror per se, but a slow and rising feeling of dread. Movies where the tension just builds up and builds up, not to be released in a “jump” moment, but in an inevitable series of events, the climax that the movie has been building too.
The Exorcist is a movie like that. It hasn’t aged well in some ways, as in todays desensitized culture the shock elements are perhaps not as shocking as they once were. But The Exorcist is still unnerving, chilling, and even moving. This is good, as those are the more important elements of the movie anyway. The story is really at the forefront here, and that’s how you make a good horror movie, or any movie for that matter, regardless of genre.
We follow actress Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn), whose young daughter Regan (Linda Blair) is starting to behave oddly. After countless doctors fail to come to a diagnosis, and as Regan is acting worse and worse, she feels she has no choice but to turn to a priest for an exorcism. She finds Father Karras (Jason Miller), a priest who privately feels himself to be losing his faith in God. He manages to convince the church that an exorcism is required, at which point Father Merrin (Max von Sydow) is brought in to lead it.
This movie of course has stirred up quite a bit of controversy in its time, mainly of course for the disturbing and hideous transformation of sweet 12-year-old Regan into a possessed blasphemer and, well… cross fetishist, but the scenes detailing her experiences with the medical community are almost as bad. Perhaps it is because this torture seems to come from a more real and concrete world. It is to the movie’s credit that by the end of the movie we fully believe that the demons and exorcism are just as real. The director apparently had a lot of experience with making documentaries. Perhaps the sense of realism that is palpable throughout the movie stems from that. Strange though it may seem, the most important thing in horror movie is that sense of realism. Without it, no strange and gruesome events would ever be really scary.
The Exorcist is a drama with scary bits, and works beautifully that way. It puts story above scares. While the shock factor may not work quite as well to a modern viewer, it makes up for it with an engaging story and excellent acting. Highly recommended (to those who can stomach this kinda thing).
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