Posts Tagged ‘mel gibson’

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If there’s one advantage to seeing the most-talked-about film (at least in my circle of admittedly “weird” friends and acquaintances) of 2015 so far six or so weeks after it came out — a delay necessitated by the fact that I promised my dad I’d take him with me to see it and my folks were out of town for a couple of months so we saved it for out Father’s Day “thing to do” — it’s that I was able to go into Mad Max : Fury Road with only the preconception that it was probably going to be good, maybe even damn good, and it didn’t need to live up to either all the perhaps-a-bit-inflated praise it received right out of the gate, given that the inevitable backlash wave that started hitting a week or two later had the predictable result of tempering my expectations somewhat.

Not that said backlash wave was all that severe, mind you — while too many people to count were saying this was “the best mainstream Hollywood action movie in at least a decade,” the harshest criticism the naysayers could come up with was stuff along the lines of “hold your horses, folks — yeah, it’s good, but it’s honeslty not even the best Mad Max flick.”

Here’s the funny thing, though — both statements are probably true.

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Mad Max : Fury Road quite likely is the best mainstream Hollywood action movie to come down the pipeline in at least a decade (at least I can’t think of any better ones that spring to mind), but it’s also still not as flat-out awesome as The Road Warrior. Which isn’t too big a knock on it considering that those are some pretty big shoes to fill. So why not just take it for what it is? The highly unexpected return of the seminal “post-apocalyptic” movie franchise of all time that ably demonstrates that creator/director/co-writer George Miller not only hasn’t lost a step, but is far more youthful, energetic, and imaginative than most filmmakers less than half his age.

Seriously. Watching this thing you’d hardly guess that it’s the product of a 71-year-old industry veteran whose last efforts were the highly popular (and lucrative, as Miller’s work tends to be — maybe it’s time he got some of the credit he deserves) Happy Feet animated films. Precisely how he was able to convince Warner Brothers to give him $150 million to take his cast and crew over to Namibia and shoot a spectacular series of explosions, car chases, and other assorted ultraviolent bad-assery in service of resurrecting a storyline that’s been laying dormant for over 30 years is anybody’s guess, but we should all be damn glad that his powers of persuasion seem to fall into the realm of the superhuman.

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As surprising as it is that Mad Max : Fury Road even managed to get made, though, rest assured that Miller hardly exhausted his bag of tricks behind the camera, because there are some genuine surprises that play out in front of it, as well — chief among them being that solo drifter of the irradiated wastelands Max Rockatansky (and if you thought Mel Gibson’s seminal iteration of the character was a man of few words, wait until you see Tom Hardy’s stoic and near-silent performance here) is more or less relegated to being an also-ran in his own movie, with the main focus here falling on Chralize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa, renegade escapee of an insane patriarchal quasi-society known as “The Citadel,”  where a triumvirate of old-timers run the show and train the men to be unquestioningly loyal servants dripping with evangelical zeal while the women are reduced to being brood mares pumping out future generations of, one assumes, increasingly-inbred offspring.

Damn. Of all the religious groups to survive World War 3, it would have to be the Mormons.

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The astonishing advances made in the realm of CGI since last we visited the desert wastes of post-nuke Australia (by way of Africa) certainly mean that Mad Max : Fury Road is the best-looking entry in the series, but it’s this film’s great leap forward in terms of attitude that most sets it apart from both its predecessors and its competition at the box office today. Simply put, this flick is pure punk rock in a way that its trio of progenitors, which generally took themselves pretty seriously, weren’t. Sure, the souped-up cars, tankers, dune buggies, and assault vehicles are ‘roid-enlarged to greater heights of absurdity than ever as one would expect, but when the villains go into battle led by a maniac guitarist whose instrument shoots flames from its neck, well — you know that no one’s too terribly concerned with presenting anything like a “realistic” take on what life would be like after “the big one.”

I think that’s a good thing — a damn good thing, in fact — and like the best punk music, Miller and fellow screenwriters Nico Lathouris and Brendan McCarthy (yes, comic book fans, that Brendan McCarthy — former frequent collaborator with Peter Milligan and co-creator of such visually transgressive and mind-bending fare as Skin and Rogan Gosh, Star Of The East — I think it’s safe to say that a lot of this “in-your-face” punk sensibility  I keep harping on about can be directly traced back to his influence) have hidden a very relevant message about sexism and the death-spiral trap of uber-masculinity under all the operatic chaos on display here,  which means that Mad Max : Fury Road isn’t just the best mainstream Hollywood action flick in at least ten years, but also the smartest and , perhaps paradoxically given how over-the-top (to say the least!) everything playing out in front of us is, the most relevant as well.

Then again, delicious irony has always been a punk staple, too, hasn’t it?

"Not Quite Hollywood" Movie Poster

"Not Quite Hollywood" Movie Poster

“Stone.” “The Man From Hong Kong.” “Stork.” “Fantasm.” “Long Weekend.” “Mad Max.” “Turkey Shoot.” “Razorback.” “Dead-End Drive-In.” ” Mad Dog Morgan.” “BMX Bandits.” “Patrick.”

If the names of these movies don’t ring a bell—or even if they do—you’d be well-served by checking out director Mark Hartley’s respectful-yet-irreverent new indie documentary “Not Quite Hollywood,” a fascinating look at the history of “Ozploitation,” the bizarrely unique brand of low-budget exploitation filmmaking from Down Under.

In a very real sense, the history of the Ozplotation and the history of Australian filmmaking are one and the same, as no other country on earth has a movie industry whose roots lie in low-budget, drive-in pictures, and while more serious and scholarly arthouse fare like “Picnic at Hanging Rock” and “The Last Wave” were the types of films Australia wanted to be known for producing in the 1970s, in truth these high-brow pictures were few and far between, and the bedrock of this nascent industry was the low-budget genre picture designed to draw people into the drive-ins (Australia is the only country besides the US with a distinct drive-in movie culture) and deliver the same types of cheap thrills, cheap shocks, cheap sex, and cheap gimmicks as their more-well-known American counterparts—all, of course, delivered on a cheap budget.

In truth, there was no Australian film industry to speak of until “Stork,” an ultra-low-budget screwball sex comedy, came along in 1971 and proved to the Australian filmgoing public—and prospective producers/investors—that Australia could produce its own fare for its cinemas and even, eventually, worldwide distribution markets. A veritable flood of Aussie sex comedies followed, such as the highly-popular “Alvin Purple” and “Fantasm” films, and the nudity-filled romps rules the day for several years until the small cadre of Australian filmmakers started to branch out into genres such as horror, action, and biker (or “bikie” as they’d say down there) movies, as well—there were even a few Australian kung fu flicks!

“Not Quite Hollywood” covers it all, with candid interviews from the directors, producers, stars,  and cinematographers behind many of the most notable Ozploitation efforts. Special attention is paid to the gonzo, balls-to-the-walls stuntmen who did so much to make this bizarre brand of filmmaking what it is, as well. American and British stars who made the trek Down Under  to either revive sagging careers or just plain keep working such as Dennis Hopper, Jamie Lee Curtis, Stacy Keach, and George Lazenby are on hand to share their recollections, as well.

Plenty of folks who went on to have fairly successful careers in Hollywood like George Miller, Fred Schepisi, and  Russell Mulcahy got their start directing Ozploitation pictures, and while names like Brian Trenchard-Smith are not as well-known stateside, their names are well-known to the Australian filmgoing public and their contributions to the growth and development of Aussie film cannot be overstated. Future mega-stars like Nicole Kidman and Mel Gibson got their start in the world of Ozploitation, as well.

Oh, and there’s plenty of Quentin Tarantino, too, if you’re interested—as a human treasure-trove of knowledge of all things exploitation, he knows many of these movies well and his thoughts and reminiscences on them are insightful, interesting, and delivered with a lot less self-involved self-importance than we’ve grown accustomed to from him over the years.

I’m a little biased toward the subject matter here because I absolutely love Australia, having spent six months there, and I absolutely love low-budget exploitation filmmaking, so pairing the two is a match made in heaven for your humble host. But I have to admit that my own exposure to the world of Ozploitation has been minimal at best, since most of these films are unavailable on DVD here in the States. Sure, I’ve seen most of the well-regarded “classics” of  the filed like “Stone,” (my personal favorite of those I’ve seen and one of the absolute best biker movies ever, period) “Mad Max,” “Roadgames,” Razorback,” and what have you, but this movie has got me wanting to hunt more down—a lot more. There’s a plethora of delights for the low-budget coniosseur to be found in the wild world of Ozploitation, and I can’t wait to discover some of them for myself.