The Man We Called Max

“My life fades. The vision dims. All that remains are memories. I remember a time of chaos. Ruined dreams. This wasted land. But most of all, I remember The Road Warrior. The man we called ‘Max’…In the roar of an engine, he lost everything. And became a shell of a man, a burnt out, desolate man, a man haunted by the demons of his past, a man who wandered out into the wasteland. And it was here, in this blighted place, that he learned to live again…”

God, I love that. I’d forgotten how much I love The Road Warrior until I caught part of it on TV the other day, which inspired me to dust off my old DVD copy of it and give it another watch.

road warrior poster 1

It’s such a great movie, and its greatness is apparent right from the opening narration. Starting a movie with voiceover can be risky, but I can’t think of any other movie that does it as well as The Road Warrior. It sets the stage perfectly. It’s evocative and poetic, and gives some background to the story while still leaving room in the viewer’s mind for interpretation.

This is even more impressive considering the fact that the movie is actually a sequel to an earlier film. The Road Warrior is actually Mad Max 2, but it was renamed The Road Warrior in the US because the first Mad Max, released in 1979, received only limited distribution in the United States. So when a sequel was made, they changed the name for US distribution in order to avoid confusing audiences.

I’m kind of glad it worked out that way to be honest, since it had the effect of making The Road Warrior feel like a very standalone movie. The opening narration does include some brief flashbacks to the first movie, but The Road Warrior is still very much its own film.

And I like that because it makes the whole movie feel so much more mysterious. It’s one of those rare sequels that is able to stand completely on its own.

In that respect it is not unlike its protagonist, a classic loner whose only companions are his car, his dog, and his double-barreled sawed-off shotgun.

road warrior max

It’s a classic archetype, from The Man With No Name…

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To Conan the Barbarian…

1982, CONAN THE BARBARIAN

To Jack Reacher…

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To any number of other westerns and samurai movies.

Some time ago I wrote about ONE MAN MOVIES, in which ONLY ONE MAN can save the day. The Road Warrior is definitely a ONE MAN MOVIE, but of a somewhat different sort. It belongs to the variety of ONE MAN MOVIE in which the protagonist is given little background, shows up out of nowhere to help people in need, and then disappears into the sunset, never to be seen again.

And yes, I realize that Max’s background is shown in the first movie, but the entire point of what I was saying earlier is that there is little background given for Max in just this particular movie, so that the viewer is able to make it up for him- or herself.

Max becomes a sort of mythological figure in the movie, the kind of man told about in stories around the campfire. He showed up, he saved them from the marauders, and then he vanished. And I just love that. I’ve always been a bit of a loner myself, and that type of character has always really appealed to me. And clearly I’m not the only one, since there are so many examples of this type of character.

The Road Warrior is a dreamlike movie, and it succeeds with only the bare minimum of plot. It takes place in a world that has elements of the world we live in, but is dramatically different in myriad other ways.

There’s also not a great deal of dialogue in the film, and there doesn’t really need to be. According to the movie’s trivia section on IMDb, Mel Gibson only has 16 lines of dialogue in the entire film, and two of them are “I only came for the gasoline.” This is a man who doesn’t waste words, and, as with anyone who doesn’t talk much, this has the effect of making everything he says have much more impact. So you know he’s serious when he says the classic line, “You want to get out of here? You talk to me.”

I’ve praised Mel Gibson’s acting before when I wrote about Lethal Weapon, and I will praise him again here. He’s so good as Max that it is difficult to imagine anyone else playing Max in the movie. He underplays Max so that his motives aren’t always clear, which makes him riveting to watch because you’re never quite sure what he’s going to do next.

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Max isn’t the only memorable character in the movie, either. The villains in particular are just as memorable, from the leader of the bad guys, The Humungus…

road warrior humungus

To his main henchman, Wez…

road warrior wez

I like to imagine that Wez and the Humungus were like accountants or Microsofties or something who went totally batshit once the world went to hell and became post-apocalyptic marauders. It’s unlikely, especially given the Humungus’ bodybuilder-like physique (have you ever known a Microsoftie that buff?) but it’s entirely possible.

As a side note, Wez is played by the same actor who played Bennett in Commando, and if you’re as big of a fan of that movie as I am you’ll know who that is right off the top of your head.

And of course I can’t forget to mention the epic chase scenes. The Road Warrior is a classic car movie, with stunts, crashes, and chases that still stand up more than thirty years after the movie was released. The final chase sequence in this movie is epic, and easily ranks among the greatest cinematic car chases of all time. It’s even more impressive when you consider that this film was made before the advent of computer-generated special effects, so everything you see in the movie is completely real, and every vehicle had an actual driver.

It’s also worth mentioning that Max is one of only two characters in the movie who uses an actual firearm, everyone else uses mostly crossbows. That the movie is able to sustain as much tension as it does largely without the use of guns is another impressive feat.

The Road Warrior is a classic. It’s just a really great movie that holds up really well more than thirty years after it was released. It has had a huge impact on popular culture, which it is set to continue in 2015, when the long-delayed fourth film Mad Max: Fury Road will be released, starring Tom Hardy as Max and directed by the same guy who directed The Road Warrior, George Miller. The first trailer was just released at Comic-Con and I have to say that it looks pretty promising. Check it out if you haven’t already.

road warrior tom hardy

I for one can’t wait to see what the future has in store…for the man we called Max.

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Everything is Awesome

Sometimes, I don’t understand myself.

When I first found out about The Lego Movie, I thought, “Well, Hollywood has officially run out of ideas. A movie where everything is made out of Legos? That sounds kind of dumb.”

I clearly remember thinking this, and being confused when the movie came out, got rave reviews, (96% positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes) and was a huge hit.

Well, last week I decided to get over myself and watched the movie. I loved it. It was fantastic. Contrary to my stupid assumption that The Lego Movie was proof of Hollywood’s lack of good ideas, The Lego Movie is actually an incredibly creative and fun movie, with gorgeous animation, top-notch voice acting, and a lot of heart. It’s also hilariously funny and is just a joy to watch.

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The movie is about Emmet, an ordinary Lego guy who just wants to fit in. He promptly becomes involved in a spectacular adventure involving Batman, Morgan Freeman, a cop with split personalities (both of which are voiced by Liam Neeson), a Lego love interest (my mom cracked up when I used the phrase “Lego love interest”) and an ultimate superweapon known only as…the Kragle.

If none of that makes sense, that’s okay. I’m not going to spend much time talking about the details of the plot, although it did occur to me that the plot is basically that of The Matrix, except that everything is made of Legos.

This is just a really, really fun, creative movie. Sometimes movies can enlighten you and make you consider deep philosophical questions about life and the human condition, and sometimes you need that. But there are other times that you just need to watch Lego Batman say “I’m here to see…YOUR BUTT.”

And I love what they did with Batman in this movie. I love Batman and I will defend Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies all damn day for being the serious treatment of Batman that the character deserves, but The Lego Movie’s Batman is just freaking hilarious, and pokes fun at the character in a way that is never cruel or mean-spirited, but just really funny and clever.

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The voice work in the movie is fantastic too. Emmet is voiced by Chris Pratt, an immensely likable actor who will soon be seen in Guardians of the Galaxy, and he gives Emmet an inherent likability that makes him so easy to root for. Batman is voiced hilariously by Will Arnett, whose gravelly Batman voice manages to make him both a good depiction of Batman and also completely adorable. Unsurprisingly, he’s my favorite character in the movie.

lego batitude

There’s also Morgan Freeman as Vitruvius, the Morpheus-esque leader of the Lego resistance who wears a Lego tie-dye shirt and what I can only assume are Lego bellbottoms. Elizabeth Banks voices Wyldstyle, the aforementioned Lego love interest (who is totally not a DJ), Will Ferrell is the evil Lord Business, and of course, the great Liam Neeson is both Good Cop and Bad Cop. My favorite Bad Cop line is when he’s waving his little Lego hands around and says “Do you see these quotation marks I am making with my claw hands?” There’s also Gandalf, Dumbledore, Wonder Woman, Shaquille O’Neal…the list goes on and on, and part of what makes the movie so much fun is spotting all these characters in the background.

lego liam neeson

The movie was directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, a directing duo who can pretty much do no wrong these days. The visuals in this movie are frequently nothing short of breathtaking, and I was particularly transfixed by the Lego ocean in one scene, which looks exactly like rolling waves of Lego bricks. I have no idea how the animators pulled this movie off, but everything in it looks spectacular. Lord and Miller also directed 21 Jump Street and 22 Jump Street, and in The Lego Movie they manage to work in a pretty hilarious joke about how annoyed Lego Superman is by Lego Green Lantern, which is even funnier once you realize that Superman is voiced by Channing Tatum and Green Lantern is voiced by Jonah Hill.

The phrase “fun for the whole family” gets tossed around a lot, but The Lego Movie really is the perfect example of a movie that will appeal to pretty much everybody, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

When I wrote about Transformers a few weeks ago, I said that a fire-breathing robot T-Rex is a perfect representation of what you would find in the brain of a 12-year-old boy. The Lego Movie is similar, but in a way that is so much more meaningful than anything Michael Bay has ever been able to accomplish. This is a movie that has a really good message, and I know that it seems like every piece of children’s entertainment has to have sort of message for the kids these days, but this movie manages it so much more gracefully than most. The final scenes of the movie are genuinely poignant, and I found myself actually being moved by a movie about children’s construction toys. That alone qualifies The Lego Movie as one of the most memorable cinematic experiences I’ve had all year.

I write about a lot of dark and violent movies on this site (which isn’t going to change much because I’m going to write about The Raid 2 soon), but it’s important to remember to have a little levity every now and then. I’m not in a great place in my life right now, and I’m always grateful when a movie like The Lego Movie comes along to remind me that hey, everything will be okay and life will get better.

Everything is Awesome!

lego movie emmet

And now that song will be stuck in your head for the rest of the day. You’re welcome.

 

Less Than Meets the Eye

If you were able to somehow tap into the brain of a 12-14-year-old boy and project that boy’s thoughts onto a screen of some sort, chances are what you would see would be something along the lines of a fire-breathing robotic tyrannosaurus.

fire-breathing robo trex

And, although I am now 25 years old, I think that fire-breathing robot dinosaurs are pretty freaking cool. Call me shallow if you will, but no matter how hard I try to keep him there, sometimes my inner 12-14-year-old self still manages to escape from his cage. I don’t know how the little scamp does it, but almost against my will, when I see a fire-breathing robot T-Rex some part of my brain says, “Yes. I need that in my life.”

And far be it from Michael Bay, that legendary purveyor of boobs and explosions, to not take that image and spend hundreds of millions of dollars bringing it to the big screen.

So far as I can tell, that’s pretty much the only reason Transformers: Age of Extinction exists. Michael Bay is a guy who has let his inner 12-year-old direct all of his movies, the result of which has been billions of dollars in worldwide box office grosses.

I have a mixed relationship with Bay’s Transformers movies. I genuinely liked the first one, I genuinely hated the second one, and the third one was a mixed bag. The fourth one was, despite the presence of a robotic Tyrannosaurus Rex that also happened to breathe fire, kind of…well…boring.

This is partly due to the movie’s formidable length. For some reason, I had thought that the fourth movie was going to be shorter than the previous three, the shortest of which was still 2 hours and 23 minutes long.

Well, as it turns out, either I was completely wrong about that or someone was lying, because Age of Extinction clocks in at a whopping 2 hours and 45 minutes long, making it the longest Transformers movie to date.

Transformers-Age-of-Extinction-Poster-Optimus-and-Grimlock

And, yeah, I was really feeling the length of this one. By the end of the movie, I felt physically tired. I inadvertently saw the movie in 3D, which probably contributed to the headache I had after it was over.

The plot, such as it is, concerns a fellow named Cade Yeager, played by Mark Wahlberg, an inventor who becomes embroiled in the conflict between Autobots and Decepticons when he buys an old semi truck that turns out to be Autobot leader Optimus Prime. Cade is a likable enough fellow and Wahlberg does what he can with the role, even if his character is mostly a stock type. He’s the familiar movie character who is a single dad, loves his daughter but is overprotective of her, is super-smart but is kind of a screwup whose inventions don’t really go anywhere and who is running out of money.

Yawn. All of this is extremely familiar, and of course Cade’s daughter is a hot leggy blonde (played by Nicola Peltz, aka Bland Pretty Girl no. 57) who has a secret boyfriend (played by Jack Reynor, aka Bland Handsome Guy no. 89) that she doesn’t want her overprotective dad to know about. There’s also the shady government agent (played by Kelsey Grammer) and the rich industrialist (played by Stanley Tucci, looking a hell of a lot like Steve Jobs) who’s trying to reverse-engineer Transformers and has discovered that Transformers are in fact made of Transformium, which is the stupidest, laziest name for a metal in a sci-fi movie since Unobtanium.

I didn’t care about any of these characters or any of their relationships, and if a Transformer had landed on any of them and squished them all at any point I really would not have cared.

At least there was no Shia LaBeef. Mark Wahlberg is a far better actor than Mr. LaBeef, and in some ways, Age of Extinction is Bay’s most mature Transformers movie. There’s less broad racial humor, although some of it still manages to creep in every once in a while. There’s less doofy slapstick, which is also nice. And, to his credit, Bay doesn’t ogle his female stars nearly as much as he ogled Megan Fox in the first two Transformers movies or that random underwear model in the third movie.

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But that’s really the only way Bay shows any restraint at all in this movie. The rest of the movie is an endless barrage of special effects which, despite being state-of-the-art and looking pretty great, are just so pervasive that they get numbing after a while.

I felt no emotions while watching this movie. I didn’t care about any of the characters, either human, robot, or dinobot. And the dinobots, by the way, don’t even show up until more than two hours into the movie.

There’s also a fat robot voiced by John Goodman and a samurai robot voiced by Ken Watanabe, and some kind of robot bounty hunter who’s obsessed with catching Optimus Prime for whatever reason. And in addition to the robot T-Rex, there was also a robot triceratops, a robot pterodactyl, and some kind of robot dinosaur with spines on its back.

All of this should be awesome, and yet…none of it can save the movie. It’s pretty much a lost cause. I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised, but I’m still a little disappointed by how indifferent this movie made me feel. I don’t think the Transformers series deserves quite as much hate as it tends to get, but at the same time I certainly understand the problems that people have with it.

trans4mers trex poster

And despite the greatness of this poster, which I would not mind having on my wall, it’s not a movie I’m keen on revisiting any time soon. All it made me feel was tired.