Mad Max: Fury Road Review

May 14, 2015

When Mad Max 2 was released in the early 80s, it followed an already good film by making it bigger and better, expanding the universe and everything that made the original a blast by tenfold. That’s what I desire from a sequel that has to make existing characters do something more than go through the same motions again – they need a grander task and adventure than the first film. This has been seen with other science fiction franchises, going as far back as Frankenstein (1931) to Bride of Frankenstein and Star Wars to The Empire Strikes Back and for me, Alien and Aliens. I’m happy to say we have it again in Mad Max: Fury Road. It’s not quite the quantum leap from the first film to the second, but it’s satisfied the thirst that Beyond Thunderdome did not quench many moons ago.

In short, Fury Road is all you could realistically want from a Mad Max movie in the age of digital film. If you demand the rough physicality of cars speeding along from the original film, you are on the wrong track, as the cars are at least 7 times more bulky now. If you demand a modernized version of Mad Max 2, you are getting much warmer. We get nice nods to the series and other films of its ilk from the past, But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s get into plot.

Fury Road takes place well beyond thunderdome, where we find Max quickly imprisoned by a new gang called the War Boys who number in the hundreds. These black metal-esque looking scrawny drones look like a hybrid between the slaves in the Smashing Pumpkins video for “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” and their lead singer Billy Corgan in the “Ava Adore” video. That’s not the only connection to rock music, as Max resembles Rob Zombie early in the picture, and later, freaks in the film appear to be long lost members of Slipknot. I’m not even going to go into detail about the vehicle that includes a thrash metal guitar player to rally the troops. Anyhow! The pale-faced goons are lead by Immortan Joe played by Hugh Keays-Byrne. Keays-Byrne is the only prominent cast member returning from the previous films, playing Toecutter in ”Mad Max”. This reappearance confuses me a bit, so I’m going to casually go back and forth, referring to him as both Immortan Joe and Ghost of Toecutter.

Ghost of Toecutter!

Immortan Joe rules his fortress from the cliffs, where he commands the War Boys who number in the hundreds. Immortan Joe enlists the next best new character in film, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), to gather more supplies from neighboring towns. Unbeknownst to him, Furiosa has taken some hostages and has her own plan to escape from his rule. After a wild chase that sees a return of the cars from The Cars that Ate Paris (1974), Max manages to meet up with Furiosa and the two make an uneasy truce to get them away from Ghost of Toecutter Immortan Joe who is in hot pursuit. Even worse for Max and crew is that Immortan Joe has teamed with other gang leaders, with appropriate Mad-Max names like The Bullet Farmer and The People Eater. We’ve seen these characters in earlier art design for the film, and I’m happy to state that they not only look the part, but the acting is sharp and without a bad performance throughout. Each character gives just the right amount of camp and comic-book intensity to their respective roles that it would be more silly if these people were not driving spike-covered monster trucks.

The Cars that Ate Paris live again!

Speaking of looks, if there is one thing that remains in memory from Mad Max 2 or Fury Road, it’s the art direction. Fury Road introduces a new vehicle or two per chase sequence. Each one looks like it was constructed from things we might see in a scrap yard in real life, but with an over-the-top makeover that would make the average monster truck driver drool. Even greater is that these vehicles are all real, not computer-generated blobs that perform impossible physics. I wish I could comment more on the look of the scenery and vehicles, but I viewed the film at a pre-screening event which was shown in 3D. Fury Road was post-converted into 3D and makes some visuals feel unusually out of place, such as muzzle flare effects and the occasional burst of flames. This ain’t Avatar, Gravity, or even Jackass 3D. Don’t see it in 3D!

Is the film flawless? Not really. Longtime purists of the series might call foul on Tom Hardy’s lack of screen time to show off the Mad Max character. Mel Gibson’s role of Max in the earlier films was always the stand-out performance, probably because he’s the only character who isn’t given any goofy faces to make.

goofy-reactions-Mad-MaxGoofy reaction shots are sadly(?) missing in Fury Road

I’ve really enjoyed Tom Hardy in some previous films like Bronson and Lawless , but he is not given as much time for us to delve into the Mad Max character, and almost feels like the side-kick in his own film. Thankfully, the new character is just as tough and wild as Furiosa, and gets her own Mad Max-esque storyline of loss. I can understand a fan’s disappointment with not seeing as much Max in a film called Mad Max, his name is in the title after all! Personally, I’m much more happy to see a new character rather than see Max go through the same problems for a third or fourth time. My only gripe about Furiosa is that her reaction to her group of young friends did not hit me quite as hard as lesser events in the film, such as Max’s annoyance at seeing others driving his car, or even Immortan Joe quickly turning his car to avoid crashing into one of his wives. Not that all important scenes with her lack an emotional tug, but each one should hit hard, especially for a character so prominent.

The final, major issue I have with the film is not one I’ve read in any early reviews; it involves how the film was shot. The original films have a rough and raw feel that actual film gives to a movie. We can tell there is a lot of digital tinkering going on in this picture with the hot orange scenes within the desert and the dark blues of the day-for-night shots, which reminded me more of the tinted scenes from Murnau’s Nosferatu than anything resembling a scene shot at night. Not sure what was on Miller’s mind with this stuff.

Fury Road should sucker-punch audiences who regularly devour the Disney-Marvel flicks or the Fast and the Furious franchise, and definitely feel more than satisfying for people who’ve waited for this film for over a decade. All I desired was a film that felt like it was made by the maniacs who made the first two films, and I received my healthy dose of the bizarre, perverse, and generously entertaining Mad Max world. Not unlike The Littlest Hobo, Max is shown leaving his accomplices after coming to their aid at the end. I look forward to see where he travels and who he meets next. (Mad Max that is, not the Littlest Hobo).


Boss Nigger Review

February 24, 2014

Much like Gun Crazy or The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Died and Came Back as Mixed Up Zombies, if you have a title this wild for a film, you better do it right the first time. So think fast what film has the most offensive title that’s apparently family friendly?

Boss Nigger Film Rating
Kids could handle things like this easier back then.

Boss Nigger of course! A Blaxploitation Western with a cast and crew of young black stars of the day and old white people behind the camera. I wish the production history on the film was documented somewhere. It was written, produced and stars Fred Williamson, who has charisma to spare even when he’s relegated to minor roles. Thankfully, he has a starring role and much more screen time here than in 1990: The Bronx Warriors.

Here’some production run down:

Robert Caramico Cinematographer of the Ed Wood scripted pornography film Orgy of the Dead and Tobe Hooper’s Eaten Alive
Gene Ruggiero Film editor old enough to have worked on Ninotchka (1939). Boss Nigger is Edited alongside Eva Ruggiero (wife? cousin? daughter? what’s the link!?)
Jack Arnold Director of superior 50s science fiction films The Incredible Shrinking Man and Creature from the Black Lagoon. Current old white guy making film called Boss Nigger.

I want to see pictures of these guys on set next to D’Urville Martin and Fred Williamson! Jack Arnold was sort of at the end of his career making this film and had settled into mostly directing television. Even in his best films, I don’t know how much personal input he had to make his mark as a director. I mostly remember his more popular films either having solid 1950s special effects and cinematography (or in the case of Shrinking Man, a surprisingly heavy ending that comes out of nowhere!) It’s not the 1950s anymore, and outside occasionally nice landscape shots of desert scenery, the film mise-en-scene is pretty awful. The flat illustration below of the Western town is pretty much how the town looks the entire movie.


So don’t watch this expecting The Wild Bunch or The Shootist. Boss Nigger is a completely different story. Its story revolves around Boss (Fred Williamson) and Amos (D’urville Martin) arriving in town, they saving a black woman from racist killers and electing themselves Sheriffs, because why not!? Between helping other minorities and seducing any attractive young woman in sight, we then follow a standard Blaxploitation formula:


That sums up half of Boss Nigger’s running time. We are then treated to Boss and Amos rescuing a black woman from racist Outlaw kidnappers. It all leads to some bad decisions made by our heroes, as they have a showdown in town leaving quite a good number of the cast dead. If that sounds like a pretty basic plot that could’ve been shot as a TV show, you are right. Williamson and Arnold just really extend these scenes to make a feature and it’s not subtle.

Nobody enters Boss Nigger expecting a fresh take on the Western genre and it’s not even as creative as Blazing Saddles, made a year earlier. It’s about making real, serious issues (like racism) seem like a firearm-filled walk in the park with Fred Williamson arresting and fighting assholes. D’Urville Martin, by the way, is no Fred Williamson. He is supposed to be the comic relief, but the real humour comes from his complete lack of competence in the role, which makes him quite endearing. D’Urville is a bit short and seems to have trouble with horseback riding and basic gunplay in the film. By comparison, Fred Williamson is much funnier, even with less obvious jokes. Maybe D’Urville was distracted by his directorial debut, Dolemite, which was released in the same year.
Since D’urville is nominated for “person most likely to accidentally shoot himself in a fight”, the rest of the cast is mostly stock bad-racist whitey or “one of the good ones” Boss supporters. No one really stands out. They are only there to be the butt of jokes, or the in case of women, get naked or fawn over Boss. The action is also weaker in the film, with only Fred making fighting seem fun., Some fights are choreographed badly, particularly the final fight, where a good part is not in the camera’s sight as it’s behind a bar in the saloon. You see tons of whiskey bottles on the wall and no one even breaks them! It’s not as poor or laughable as Dolemite, but doesn’t leave much of an impression either.

My favourite thing about blaxploitation films is their soundtracks. Boss Nigger has a score with the very modern sounding “We Produce” name credited as the composer. It’s funny to watch Boss and Amos ride horses in a Western setting to a set of generic funk riffs. Occasionally, a more traditional Western score is heard, especially when the story shifts to the racist outlaws on set. However, it doesn’t last, as the final showdown has the racist outlaws riding into town with that crazy funk score again! Who screwed that up? There funk score even resembles the People’s Court intro theme. Isn’t cool when films date weirdly like that?

The notorious theme song is the most noteworthy piece, which is performed by Terrible Tom. I can’t find any evidence of Terrible Tom doing any other music outside this film. (If you are Terrible Tom or know anything about him, contact me). The song is not as strong as the music from SuperFly or Shaft, but if you find the title “Boss Nigger” in any way entertaining, you’ll find the chorus entering your mind when you least expect it.

The film has a surprisingly high rating on IMDb, which I assume stems from people enjoying the risque title. Boss Nigger has some amusing lines from Williamson, but as a story, it’s a mess. If the Blaxploitation traits of strong, overtly sexual and aggressive black men punching out idiotic racists is your thing, than this will satisfy you, as it’s slightly unique setting alone to make it stand out from other Blaxploitation hybrids like Space is the Place or Blacula. Despite the occasional weak production value and storytelling, it’s entertaining to see Fred Williamson do his thing with a lighter racial commentary. Besides, what other PG films has women and children killed, socialism praised, and racism handled with violence? If only all modern day PG films were as crazy as that, genre fans wouldn’t cry over PG-13 so much now, would they?


Karate-Robo Zaborgar Review

May 17, 2011

Noboru Iguchi is a funny guy. With his partner in crime Yoshihiro Nishimura, the duo have made films like Machine Girl and Tokyo Gore Police which push the levels of humorous perversion, nudity and gore to absurd levels. I’m not sure how they manage to make money off these films as I’ve always felt that their film trailers are more popular than the films themselves. Someone at Nikkatsu must have seen some hope for them, as Iguchi was hired to make this film which is his highest budgeted yet. Working with Nikkatsu has put limits on him, as it forced Iguchi to lower the levels of nudity and gore to a minimum. Has he gone soft? Sort of. This image should give you the idea of what playing it family friendly is for Iguchi.

Karate Robo-Zaborgar's Diarrhea Monster
He hasn’t gone that soft. The name does not represent the monster thankfully.

So yeah, less serious than the average Tokusatsu looking film, but that’s what I expected from these filmmakers. The original television series was not a terribly popular television series in the first place. It ran for one season and this television show hereshows an audience who are not familiar with it and just seem to laugh at it (which is totally understandable).

Popular or not, Iguchi seems to be a big enough fan to not deviate from the original series in too many ways. The film is about Daimon (Yasuhisa Furuhara) who uses his robot-motorcycle Zaborgar to battle Team Sigma led by Dr. Akunomiya (Akira Emoto) who is trying to develop a Jumbo Cyborg using the DNA from politicians around Japan. To accomplish his plan, Dr. Akunomiya’s cyborg assistant, Miss Borg (Mami Yamasaki) invades Japan with various robots and monsters to accomplish his goal. After several encounters, Miss Borg and Daimon begin to fall for each other which leads Daimon to question his own motives against Team Sigma.

Silly, but nothing too special, and it’s all littered with childish humor ranging from Zaborgar knowing Muay Thai to heads rocketing off shoulders and flying around to dragons shooting out of characters breasts and arses. The action scenes in the film are what I’ve come to expect from the Sushi Typhoon films, with lots of fake looking CG explosions and CG ricocheted bullet shots. I understand that the film is low budget, but a lack of pyrotechnics does make me less excited about the action as they distract my attention away from really getting into a fight scene. Outside a brief scene involving Zaborgar fighting the Bulldog truck, the action scenes spark little excitement.

Iguchi replaces the American football players found
in the original series with AV stars such as Asami.

My problem with this film is the same problem I have with most of Iguchi’s films. They start out alright with their goofy immature humor which at first makes me forgive a silly and fairly weak script, but towards the second half of the picture this kind of amusement begins to dry up. Despite having characters who talk on cellphones which make characters heads explode, we are also swamped with melodrama in the second half when we encounter Daimon’s family troubles. These characters are introduced far too quickly making it very hard to feel any sympathy for them at all. Not to mention that these plot elements feel really out of place in this kind of film. I’m not sure how audiences will react to Zaborgar as it lacks of the ultra-violence of his previous films and still has all the same problems that I bothered me in his other features. If you are fan of the goofy humor in the previous films then by all means explore this as it will be quite satisfying. If you demand more nudity and gore than there is still good news! Iguchi has announced a director’s cut involving more gore and even a sex scene between Miss Borg and Daimon. For me however, I hope that Iguchi and and Yoshihiro take a break from releasing two films a year to work on a script to match their crazy visual perversions. If they can accomplish this, then they might be able to make a film in the same league as Paul Verhoeven’s better works.


Thunderball Blu-ray Review

April 29, 2011

Hover over this image for immense joy.

Time to take a last minute advantage of a blogalong deal with The Incredible Suit’s attempt at world blog domination. Want more details? Read about it here. (Warning: It’s in British English which I assume is slightly different and therefore inferior to my Canadian English). I sadly missed out on all opportunities to blog about the first three films which are sometimes known amongst fans as “the good ones” but I still want to take a shot at reviewing a Bond flick. So I’m stuck watching the two-hour-plus of Thunderball.

On paper, Thunderball should’ve been a lot better. It was directed Terence Young who directed Dr. No and From Russia with Love. Young’s not really a name spoken to often outside the Bond fan base, but he also made the great 1960s thriller Wait Until Dark and a film I haven’t seen called Soleil rouge that has the strange cast of Alain Delon, Ursula Andress, Toshirô Mifune, and Charles Bronson. It looks pretty bad, but that’s what I expect from a film where samurai’s fight euro-cowboys.

Outside having a good Bond director, we have other goodies to boast the appeal of the film. Thunderball had the highest budget of any Bond film to this point and was the first one shot at 2.35:1. This film is mint looking on blu and you can really appreciate the details of these sets since the image is an obvious step up from any other format this film’s been released on. I could watch the introductory scene of the attractive anonymous ladies swooshing around to the sound of Mr. Tom Jones on repeat for a good while. If you don’t care for Tom Jones, consider yourself lucky you didn’t get that other Bond theme made for Thunderball. Country singer Johnny Cash did his own Thunderball theme which was released on a few compilation albums and not used for the film. Works for me as the song would be more appropriate for some sort of underwater-western.

Johnny Cash sings Thunderball. Bizarre.

The Blu-ray is an easy recommendation if you love yourself some Thunderball. The Blu-ray contains all the bonus features from the 2006 Ultimate Edition disc and still has the confusingly titled menus called “minisitry of propaganda” and “007 mission control” so good luck finding what you are looking for. Cause, y’know, that three-second TV advert for the film on the disc will change your life I’m sure.

As for the film itself, it does feel like a drop in quality compared to Bond’s previous missions. The James Bond films at this point were still popular (Thunderball was the highest grossing Bond film and praised by critics in both the UK and US on it’s initial release), but I feel that a few decades later that the film is only good for a few selected moments and gets tiresome in the middle section. The good bits in the film for me are the action scenes and some of the underused cheesy spy gadgets.

Despite how they are edited and sped-up, I like the action scenes such as the first prop-oriented fight scene involving Bond dropping entire shelves on a knife-wielding cross-dressing villain. I even love the back-stretcher scene which never fails to bring a smile to my face in it’s utter goofiness. I don’t know why they would create a device like this that can be set at lethal speeds, but I don’t really question much that happens in the Bond universe. If Bond wants to escape five feet away in a Jet Pack than that’s fine by me, too bad the rest of the movie is set underwater. Some of the gadgets that Bond gets from Q are boring as they aren’t flashy are there to just fill potential plot-holes. No one cares that Bond is popping pills so he can be tracked later on or that he has a camera that can take pictures of the Disco Volante underwater. BORING.

Summary of Gadgets in Thunderball
Fig 1: How to spot gadget quality in Thunderball

For the plot, the film begins to feel like a chore around the time the Avro Vulcan is hijacked and sinks in the water. It leads to a series of pretty tedious and episodic events that don’t advance the plot a great deal. It’s great that we get to see Domino in her black-and-white bikini and it’s fun to see Bond tossed in a pool full of live sharks, but do we have to sit through the rest of the plodding story to get to these parts? The rest of the underwater scenes go on for an eternity. Were they ever interesting? Even technically? You can get all these Connery-based spy scenes done better and just as many attractive Bond girls without these water scenes in the earlier films and without all the filler.

I’m not the first person to trash the underwater scenes, but I am someone who is actually fond of the final scene involving various spear-men attacking each other underwater. This scene is a surprisingly violent, involving lots of kills within the seven minutes. Being underwater also stops the amount of puns that Bond must be aching to deliver as he’s killing the SPECTRE agents off one by one. I like this scene, but I understand that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea as it’s a bit chaotic. Terence Young didn’t like this scene either. He didn’t even like the whole film.

James Bond Terrence Young

Not a great sign when the creator himself is trashing the film. If you didn’t like the earlier Bond films, than Thunderball will not change your mind. If you are someone who is willing to get up and do laundry or something in the middle part than you won’t miss too much and can find Thunderball to be a moderately enjoyable piece of sixties spy cinema. You can do much worse in the Bond series. How much worse? Check back in a few months when I get around to reviewing Never Say Never Again.

Sources: 1 | 2


A Better Tomorrow Review

April 27, 2011

A Better Tomorrow / Hard-Boiled
The controversy of whether you put a dash between Hard and Boiled continues

I’m still slightly recovering from the sensory overload that was the double feature of A Better Tomorrow and Hard-Boiled at the Mayfair theater weeks ago. Seeing these two films again is a good refresher on how to make a superior action film. I don’t want to waste too much time on these films as you probably know that they kick all sorts of ass, but let’s continue.

For now, let’s discuss a quick history of the impact of A Better Tomorrow. This was director John Woo’s first important hit. When it was released in 1986 in Hong Kong it was not only the highest grossing film of the year, but the highest grossing Hong Kong film at that point making HK$35 million. According to Karen Fang’s book A Better Tomorrow, the film grossed thirty-five million Hong Kong dollars. In comparison, the second highest grossing film of the year which was Millionaire’s Express (starring big names like Sammo Hung , Yuen Biao and Cynthia Rothrock) made HK$28 million. Sammo’s films were already popular but this was when John Woo was known as comedy filmmaker and Chow-Yun Fat was known a comedic actor in television. Hard to believe that was ever the case. The film had two sequels, a remake, and several derivatives such as Wong Jing’s Return to a Better Tomorrow.

Of course, sales and popularity mean nothing unless the product itself is strong and can holdup nearly 30 years later. I’m happy to report that A Better Tomorrow does hold up despite not being as popular as Woo’s other Hong Kong flicks, namely Hard-Boiled and The Killer. It is noticeably different, A Better Tomorrow is less action-oriented and more operatic than either of those films. But thankfully for fans who can be won over without truck loads of action, it’s just as flashy and stylish as Woo’s best work. How stylish?

A Better Tomorrow is Stylish
Obviously very stylish.

Of course if it were all just slow-motion shots with a flimsy story than we wouldn’t be talking about A Better Tomorrow still today. Unlike many of Woo’s imitators who think it’s enough to have an actor flying across the screen with two-guns blazing, Woo does have the cinematic elements like characters, plot and his own pet-themes on his mind that give the stylish scenes the extra meat they need to last many views. Plot-wise, this film trumps Hard Boiled in my books. The films ganger-oriented story about honor and brotherhood between police offers and gangsters is a favourite theme of Woo’s, and he had been waiting for years to tell this type of story at this point in his career. It shows as it’s jam-packed with ideas with almost no wasted scenes. Everything is tightly woven and is delivered by some of the best actors Hong Kong has (including Chow Yun-fat and Leslie Chung who were showing up in all the best late 80s and early 90s Hong Kong films). Chow Yun-fat is especially enjoyable as he is given all the best lines in A Better Tomorrow. No wonder fans are still asking Woo to this day when they are working together next.

If the film has a sour note, I’d say it involves some earlier lighter scenes involving a music rehearsal. They seem out of place as they don’t make sense sequentially as comedic relief, nor are they particularly funny. You do get to see producer Tsui Hark as a music judge who gets his car’s rear-window smashed in however. On that note, Tsui Hark looks almost exactly the same now as he did 20 years ago too, does this guy ever age?

John Woo shows how he really feels about Tsui by smashing up his car.

The print at the Mayfair was excellent without a scratch or speckle. It was either brand new or from a private collector who takes very good care of their prints. It had English credits and only English subtitles which suggest it wasn’t a Hong Kong print, but it did include music that is not on my Anchor Bay DVD of the film. The main musical cue that I recall is the famous restaurant scene which you can see here. The YouTube video showcases the version I saw with it’s more quirky Cantonese music opposed to the saxophone and guitar music on the Anchor Bay release. I’ll take the original music over any soundtrack that involves a saxophone. Saxophone solos sound more dated than a synthesizer score to me. I haven’t seen the Region 2 UK disc of A Better Tomorrow, but from what reviews I’ve read, I find that it fares even worse than the Anchor Bay one.

I’m babbling like a fan boy here, but let’s just say that A Better Tomorrow could easily sneak into a list of the top crime films of the 1980s. If this print comes to your town, you owe yourself the pleasure to see this classic.