Mad Max: Fury Road

mad max fury road poster

As a huge fan of the Mad Max movies, I had low expectations for Fury Road. It had been talked about for so long, and went through many iterations- or at least, the Internet rumor mill did. It was going to be all CG, like the Happy Feet movies! (also directed by George Miller). Mel Gibson would return! Or worse, it would take all the worst parts of Thunderdome and run with it.

Well, George Miller and company made a movie, that for pure action enjoyment, blows all the other three Max movies away. Now, The Road Warrior will always be my favorite. (I reviewed Mad Max, Road Warrior, and Thunderdome here). I saw Mad Max 2 when I was twelve, and it scarred by brain. Any car chase I write is inspired by its insanity. But side to side, there is no comparison. The stunts are bigger, the chase neverending, and the world of the film is immense. Road Warrior felt like one settlement was all that remained. Fury Road gives us a bleak continent.

The story kicks off with Max captured by the war boys of the Citadel, a water station run by Immortan Joe, whose young killers worship him like a god. He’s built a new mythology out of metal album covers and when his lieutenant Imperator Furiosa (Cherlize Theron) goes rogue, with Max along for the ride, the movie is a two hour balls-out car chase of war rigs, Big Daddy Roth monster hot rods on monster truck and battle tank frames, and hornet’s nests of nomadic bikers. The world, and the characters, are painted in such detail that the lack of exposition is no matter. This is a tapestry, not a history book. My favorite characters were a band of woman on motorcycles with rifles, young and old, survivors who fight like the Night Witches of World War II.

vuvalini mad max

Tom Hardy makes a fine Mad Max. He’s a favorite actor of mine, daring, a fiery star of emotion, who’s played iconic British gangsters and violent men with incredible power. Here he wavers between ice cold killer and leather-clad Buster Keaton on an out of control murder convoy. The movie is equally his and Theron’s; as always, we get very little backstory on Max. If you want backstory, watch the other movies! Theron’s Furiosa is equally cryptic, and they make a brutal team of reluctant equals. The movie is relentless, but I’d watch it if it were twice as long. I’d watch a prequel about the bad-ass biker women. I’d watch another movie with Furiosa and Max. I’d watch George Miller set a bag of dog crap on fire and ring Hollywood’s doorbell, because he made a better action movie than the Marvel toy-selling machine and the DC grit-shit-show has been doing for the last decade.

Unshackle your imagination with bolt cutters and burn out on a fury road…

mad-max-fury-road-ReviewI wasn’t going to mention it, but some “man website” was trying to make manly real man-men boycott the movie because it’s “feminist” or whatever. The movie has bad-ass women in being bad-ass, and it made their peepees feel small. I don’t take “the manosphere” seriously (how can you, with a name like that?) but I found this takedown site hilarious. We Hunted The Mammoth takes down the boycotters’ whining here.

Fast and the Furious 6… really!

My review of the heist-caper-car chase flick Fast and the Furious 6 is up at Criminal Element.

I really liked it, surprisingly. They are in their groove. And they chase a Dodge Daytona with a main battle tank. What’s not to love?



The Warrior’s Way

There now exists a subgenre known as the Samurai Western; they were made for each other, as Kurosawa directly inspired spaghetti westerns, and now it’s come back at us like a kid’s boomerang in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. We’ve had SUKIYAKI WESTERN DJANGO, SIX STRING SAMURAI, SHANGHAI NOON and NIGHTS, and now we get cowboys, carnies and carnage with THE WARRIOR’S WAY. Written and directed by Sngmoo Lee, who’s IMDb resume includes only this film. So I’m calling him Schmoo for the entirety of his review, in case he does not actually exist.

Dong-gun Jang from the excellent Korean war flick TAE GUK GI: THE BROTHERHOOD OF WAR stars as the Yang, Greatest Swordsman of All Time Ever, as we are told in glittering Comic Sans. We see him pose dramatically after slicing apart a dozen warriors in a few seconds, and he finds the treasure they are guarding is a baby girl, the last of the enemy clan. He cannot kill her, so his assassin’s guild- the Sad Flutes- vow he will die. He flees to the mythical American West, and comes upon a ghost town that a group of Carnies have chosen to build a Ferris Wheel in, hoping to lure pioneering tourists to the middle of the desert. It’s like Vegas, built by extras from “Deadwood” and “Carnivale.”

The movie keeps us interested by having an absurdly comic tone, from Yang carrying the baby girl like a shopping bag to how he kills innocuous-seeming bystanders, only to have assassin’s weapons fall out of their hands after they collapse. There are references galore, from Lone Wolf & Cub, to John Woo, and more, but they never feel like cribbing. Yang strolls into town, Walkin’ the Earth like Kane in “Kung Fu,” as lone killers are wont to do. We meet Geoffrey Rush as the Town Drunk, Tony Cox as the midget ringmaster who’s quick to crush someone’s nuts in his hands, and Kate Bosworth as Jesse the Cowgirl from TOY STORY 2, at least at first. She manages to mellow out into less of a caricature, but still has plenty of fun with their role. Rush is very memorable as the drunk, staggering around in his pajamas and getting the best lines.

The closest you get to boobs in this R rated bloodless film.

The wild west equivalent of a post-apocalyptic wastelands motorcycle gang rides into town on horses, like they have once before; Kate has a score to settle with their leader, and Yang can’t draw his blade without alerting his Sad Flutes to his whereabouts. But you know he’ll have to, and thank goodness he does. That’s when we get to see six guns versus samurai swords, and it’s a lot of fun to watch how they make it less one-sided than it seems. The town drunk is of course a great gunslinger; they nod toward BLAZING SADDLES
some more with how they use dynamite. It’s not long before blood, explosions and gunplay light up the town, and we get to settle that childhood bet, who kicks more ass? Toshiro Mifune or Clint Eastwood?

The director makes great use of his bizarre set, with merry-go-rounds and circus freaks and clowns fighting against masked marauders with a Gatling gun and ninja swordsmen. It’s a lot of fun to look at when the overuse of CG doesn’t get in the way. I have made peace with CG blood after @AxelleCarolyn on Twitter- better known as the smokin’ hot killer Pict babe from CENTURION– told me how much money it saves independent productions. But I noticed CG cowboys climbing the Ferris Wheel, and CG swordsmen in black leather all over the place. It really stood out and made it look like anime at times, which I know the story owes a lot to, but it was very distracting from a very fun film.

3 out of 5 midgets with specially designed spiked gloves for crushing your nutsack

© 2010 Tommy Salami

Movies with Milky: Centurion

Is CG blood cheaper or easier? I just want to know why it’s so prevalent these days. Everything from Rob Zombie putting a CG Bowie knife in someone’s chest in THE DEVIL’S REJECTS to the virtual buckets of CG blood in Neil Marshall’s latest, CENTURION. It looks so fake. Are squibs too dangerous? I’m guessing it makes filming a lot easier, as the Pict just falls down and then we can add the gore later, so if they flub it, no re-shoot required. However, I’ll forgive this latest film by the guy who gave us DOOMSDAY (full review) THE DESCENT and DOG SOLDIERS because he makes films that are just so much damn fun that I can overlook their flaws. This one has the usual- some off pacing with an overlong second act, and a few meandering subplots that could have used a rewrite- but they are easily forgiven with the tons of bloody action we get. Marshall knows how to engage the audience and he does a great job here.

My kingdom for a tongue!

CENTURION tells the story of the Roman Ninth Legion (wikipedia link) which was glossed over in the history books, due to the Romans’ brutal defeat by an uprising of the Picts. I liked this bloody version better than the fun sword & sandal version THE LAST LEGION (full review) that came out a few years back. Michael Fassbender (the British spy who can’t count to 3 in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS) plays Centurion Quintus Dias, the lone survivor of the most remote garrison north of Londinium in the overstretched Roman Empire. The story begins after we meet him, and soon a guard has a spear thrust into his crotch and the place is overrun by marauding Picts, in a spectacular and bloody battle that doesn’t rely on silly movie cliches. Don’t get attached to anyone, because in a swordfight, people get hurt…

The problem with rabble is there’s so many of them!

Quintus escapes, and flees south to get the rest of the legion ready for this onslaught, but the Picts are very well prepared with ambushes. The leader has a “tame Pict” tracker played by Olga Kurylenko – Camille from QUANTUM OF SOLACE- who unfortunately had her tongue cut out by Roman soldiers as a child. Unfortunate because this gives us a mute female lead, but I guess her accent might have been odd, given that everyone has a British one. Anyway, she’s the female badass in this Marshall flick, and I like his better than Joss Whedon’s, because they actually look like they can kick your ass instead of being anime characters from a fanboy’s wet dream. She’s got the Rhona Mitra role this time, except she can’t say any snappy one-liners.

Run, Fassbender, run!!

The story bogs down a bit with betrayals and aborted rescues, but the battles are a blast, and it’s a fitting tale to explain the loss of the Ninth Legion. It’s a lot like OUTLANDER (full review) without aliens, and I’m glad more films like this are being made. If CG blood allows us to have more bloody sword & sandal flicks, then so be it! This one is definitely worth a rental, and I’ll be adding the Blu-Ray to my collection when it is released. Milky loved it as well, and recommended it. I haven’t seen this many heads get lopped off since the French Revolution (yes, I was there) and the battles will make you fondly remember BRAVEHEART and GLADIATOR. Fave kill? Someone gets chopped in the mouth and the whole top of their head gets removed.

3.5 severed tongues out of 5

© 2010 Tommy Salami

a bloody two-fer

In the last two weeks I saw some funny, bloody as hell stuff. One was of course MACHETE, Robert Rodriguez’s hilarious and fun-packed tribute to Danny Trejo and ’70s grindhouse revenge flicks. Like an early ’70s film, it’s not afraid to stick it to the man, this time skewering our ridiculous Catch-22 immigration policy. Danny Trejo gets the role of a lifetime as the biggest bad-ass Mexican Federale, so bad he just uses a huge Machete instead of a gun, for which he is so named. The movie wastes no time, introducing him as he’s about to use his police cruiser as a missile to take out Mexico’s biggest drug kingpin’s lair. But of course, he is betrayed and his family murdered, and three years later finds him as a day laborer in Texas.

As the Dude would say, “shit comes to light,” and after an immigrant-baiting politician played expertly by Robert DeNiro- fucks with the wrong Mexican, he goes on a rampage of revenge. He teams up with Michelle Rodriguez, fights Minutemen, and has a balls-out final battle that makes the campy, explosion-infested finale of DESPERADO seem outdone. Favorite kill? Crushing a redneck with a low-rider. The film never loses its low-budget look, but it also doesn’t try too hard, like parts of GRINDHOUSE did. Is it perfect? As a homage to these films we loved, like THE EXTERMINATOR, it succeeds spectacularly and transcends the films it pays tribute to. It kicks the ass of Stallone’s retro-action flick, as far as I’m concerned. We have a few moments of distraction, but overall we get everything we ask for- blood, booms, and boobies. Lindsay Lohan has a small, perfect role as a rich Paris Hilton wanna-be who turns into a vengeful Catholic valkyrie, and I give her credit for taking the part- and baring all for our benefit, in more ways than one. The media’s never forgiven her for becoming an adult woman, and I say: get over it. She’s not a Disney girl anymore. But moreso than her cameo, I loved De Niro’s W impression, as his Texas accent fades in and out. It was also great seeing Steven Seagal play a bad guy, a role that suits him.

MACHETE is leaving its mark: Firecracker and I went to see the Broadway musical BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON and at one point, when the ridiculous, over the top spoof most reminiscent of Matt Stone & Trey Parker’s early masterpiece CANNIBAL: THE MUSICAL gets to Jackson’s skirmishes with the Spanish, one of the Spaniards opens his huge duster coat to reveal dozens of knives, just like Machete does in the trailer. I enjoyed this play a lot. It’s not perfect either; it starts off at 11, campy, crazy and goofy, and ends on a more serious note as Jackson’s populism catches up with him, and he is faced with “The Indian Question,” and becomes one of history’s greatest monsters by giving the people what they want.

I enjoyed the hell out of this musical, which seemed inspired by one of my favorites, EVIL DEAD: THE MUSICAL. It’s risque, ridiculous, and campy. Half the story is told by a narrator in a mechanical wheelchair who suffers all sorts of fourth wall abuses. Andrew Jackson is played like a rock star, including AC/DC style A/J logos on the drum set. The songs are raucous and clever, if not entirely memorable, but full of energy. They make comparisons to W’s administration, Obama’s difficulties with Congress, the Bush/Gore election debacle (because Jackson first lost by electoral votes, and was voted down by the Senate) but it’s not overtly political. Perhaps it should be. It ends on a downer, with Jackson’s joyous populism turning on him, as he must betray the Creek Indians who helped him peacefully move other tribes, and put forth the brutal policies that would lead to the Trail of Tears and other acts of genocide.

My only complaint is that this brave, relentlessly funny show didn’t even plumb deep enough into Jackson’s wikipedia entry for jokes. The best gags are often the hilariously idiotic portrayals of historical figures such as Martin Van Buren, John Calhoun, Henry Clay, and John Quincy Adams as foppish buffoons with Elizabethan collars, when Jackson led an unbelievable life. He fought 13 duels and was shot so many times they said “he rattled like a bag of marbles.” The man on our $20 bill with his flowing silver locks founded the Democratic party, which got its donkey symbol from his opponents calling him a jackass. Like the Republicans have gone a long way from their roots with Lincoln, the Democratic party has wandered far from Jackson’s genocidal populism, and that’s left untouched. But it’s a damn entertaining musical, much like a potty mouthed punk’s daydreams in history class, with a great sense of humor.

© 2010 Tommy Salami

Even a remaker who is pure of heart…

“Even a remaker who is pure of heart,
And says his prayers at night,
can make a turd when the wolfbane blooms
and the autumn moon is bright.”

Those are my thoughts on the recent remake of The Wolf Man. The 1941 film (FULL REVIEW) is one of my all time favorites. Sure, the effects are dated and the beast looks a bit like a toothy hipster with a Jew-fro, but the story has a lot of heart. Larry Talbot is a likable lug and a bit of a doofus, as we see him clumsily corner Gwen for a date in her antique shop. He falls into the werewolf curse by pure circumstance, and suffers the fatal destiny it bequeaths upon him. It is a sad and tragic tale. What it lacks in gore and terror, it delivers in pathos for its protagonist, who turns into a beast under the full moon and attacks those he loves. It can be taken as allegory; rather like the Nick Lowe song “The Beast in Me,” about a drunk.

The remake, despite giving us Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins and even Art Malik- the bad guy from True Lies– goes for pure gore and a hackneyed, tortured artist story that generates zero pathos and instead makes us sit around wondering what orifice we’ll see wolf claws sprout from on a Bobby’s agonized corpse next. As special effects go, Rick Baker does a great job. The mastermind behind the excellent An American Werewolf in London (FULL REVIEW) effects, he goes hog wild here, making a hunkering, slavering beast of a wolf man to terrify the moors. The CG effects that make the beast hop around the landscape as realistically as Mario on Nintendo seriously detract from the mood. He hops on policemen like they are goombas, eviscerating them and moving on to the next. In most werewolf movies, they at least take a bite out of you. This one seems to make a game out of how many people he can kill before dawn.

Which is fine for a slasher. But this one wants us to take it seriously, with its Daddy Issues and having to make a good wolf man vs.a bad wolf man, which we already saw in Jack Nicholson’s Wolf, a much better re-imagining of the original. This one has its moments, but doesn’t serve as a respectable homage. If anything, it is worth seeing to watch Rick Baker pull out all the stops. Director Joe Johnston, who brought us decent adventure with The Rocketeer and Hidalgo, goes the same route that Stephen Sommers did for The Mummy, but without the fun. I would have preferred someone who loved the first movie, or the genre. Like Joe Dante, for example. I can’t imagine watching the remake again, and it makes me dread the planned remake of An American Werewolf in London.

And what’s with the title? Wolfman? Maybe his full name is Lawrence Talbot Wolfman.

© 2010 Tommy Salami

Les Expendables

It took 33 years, but Sylvester Stallone once again has a sense of humor about himself. And that’s what makes The Expendables, the balls to the wall ’80s style action flick that we’ve been anticipating for over a year now, so awesome. I’ll admit it, when I saw his low rider pickup truck that hearkens back to his ’50 chopped Merc in Cobra, I was a little bit concerned that the kickassitude of Rambo went to his head. But no, he is definitely the star of this one, yet plays well with others. He gives plenty of screen time to all the big names he got together to make this throwback extravaganza, and we can’t ask for anything more. Well, except maybe for Kurt Russell and Jean-Claude Van Damme to show up in the sequel.

Testosterone Level Causes Impregnation Within 50 Yards

I’m not going to bore you with the plot except for this single line: a group of bad-ass mercenaries take a suicide mission to assassinate a South American dictator. We first meet them as they rescue a cargo ship held hostage by Somali pirates, scaling it like Navy SEALs and blasting them to pieces with laser sighted machine guns and shotguns loaded with shells that will blow a man in half. But they’re reasonable people; Sly isn’t playing Rambo here, he’s more of a tired old guy who wants you to surrender, but will blast six holes in you with his revolver the second he realizes you won’t. He has a buddy rivalry with Jason Statham, the knife master of the group, over who can take someone out quicker. As in many of Sly’s previous films, he equips his men with custom knives, from a Gil Hibben Bowie blade with a brass parry strip, ring-pommelled throwing daggers, switchblades and huge, fast draw folding knives.

If I wasn’t getting married, I’d buy this $1850 Gil Hibben Bowie…

Sly and Statham are the biggest roles, but Jet Li gets some good fights in, and gets to show some comic chops as he complains he should have a bigger share, because everything is harder for him because he’s the short one. He has to take more steps when they run someplace. Randy Couture “used to wrestle in high school” and that explains his cauliflower ears, which he is very sensitive about. Terry Crews gets to have some fun with a Sledgehammer shotgun, but this is a long way from his hilarious role as President Camacho in Idiocracy.Pity, he can be really funny. Dolph Lundgren gets the thankless job of being the guy who’s a little too psycho for a band of psychos, and Mickey Rourke has retired from mercenaryin’ to be a tattoo artist. He gets to give the “I’ll cry when I’m done killin'” speech.

The movie showcases the strengths of our favorite bad boys but peppers humor in between, a wise choice that has worked since classics of the genre like Commando. I was a little disappointed that the fictional country they invade isn’t named Val Verde, but that should be saved for an Arnie movie, I suppose. Speaking of which, Arnie and Bruce Willis’s cameos are hilarious. Sure, they only get five minutes, but Arnie lets himself be the butt of the jokes, with Sly poking fun at the weight he put on as Governor, and that he “wants to be President.” He’s a rival merc leader, and doesn’t ham it up. Maybe after he’s done governating, Sly will give him a big role in the sequel. I sure hope so.

If he dies… he dies

The bad guys are played by a psycho Eric Roberts and David Zayas, best known as Angel from “Dexter.” The girl is Giselle Itié, a beauty from Mexican television, who will likely appear in Hollywood again. She has good chops, though Sly isn’t the best at getting realistic performances out of women (see Julie Benz in Rambo, who we know can act like a champ). But that’s not what we’re looking for in an action funfest like The Expendables. It was great seeing so many of them together. I enjoyed the hell out of it, but I don’t think it’s as good as Rambo– which is damn hard to top. The best I can say about it is: IT DELIVERS. And I damn well hope they make a sequel, and keep it rated R. And I will agree with Milky, my movie buddy, that they better bring back that shotgun, too. It should get its name in the credits.

4 out of 5 exploding human heads

© 2010 Tommy Salami