Monday, April 28, 2014

The Road Warrior

You know, most of my posts begin with a nostalgic story on how I came about the film that I discuss.  It’s only because I remember little things that happen before, during, and after viewing the film.  When I first saw Superman: The Movie back in 1978, I’ll never forget that it was the mother of my brother’s friend, Brian, who’d driven us to the movie theater and dropped us off to watch it.  I even remember when we stepped out of the theater and Brian kidded with me that I’d developed a spit curl like Christopher Reeve had had in the movie, having a good laugh about it afterwards.  The same year, my brother and I were treated to the re-release of Star Wars by our grandmother’s husband, John.  I’ll never forget how Corvette Summer was playing in the same multiplex and he thought we might’ve wanted to see that instead, giving us the option to go see that while he went to see Star Wars.  I guess he thought kids wanted to see the other movies because it was the cool one to see, but we assured him it was Star Wars that struck our fancy.  In 1984, my mom had dropped off my brother and me to see The Terminator at the popular Meridian Quad multiplex and after picking us up, witnessing an 81-year-old man getting run down—later passing away—by some idiot who ran the red light. 

Yes, every movie has a memory behind it, either some minor detail like me inadvertently having a spit curl or a vast event where an elderly man lost his life.

Well, watching The Road Warrior back in 1982 was no different.

Another popular multiplex my brother and I frequented was the Hacienda Six in Sunnyvale, California.  At that point in time, I’d never been able to see an R-rated movie, both forbidden by my parents and not being able to get in one of them because of my 13-year-old age.   However, my brother and I found ourselves at that theater one day with another friend of his named Wesley.  Probably there to see some other movie besides The Road Warrior, we were hanging out by the arcade games while waiting for the movie to start.  For some reason, Wesley (who was one of my brother’s trouble-making friends) was talking it up with one of the theater workers there and saying something to him, while they were taking turns on a video game.  After a few minutes, when he came over to us, he informed us that the worker was his friend and that he was going to let us watch The Road Warrior because he lost a bet on the game they were playing.  Of course, we were all excited, and at the same time a little scared, to see our first R-rated movie in a theater.  So, when the time came, we found ourselves in the seats of the theater and widened our eyes as the movie began.

We’d sat and saw a good portion of the film, taking in all the curse words and terrified, yet excited, when we saw the girl getting her clothes torn off and seeing her bare naked breasts, and just enthralled at how much of a bad-ass we saw in Mel Gibson.  Even though Wesley assured us he’d gotten the okay for us to be in this theater to watch this age-restricted movie, I still had a bit of apprehension about it, thinking that someone was going to come in and kick us out.  After a while, I had stopped worrying and figured it was smooth
sailing until the end of the film.  But just as we had started getting comfortable, thinking we were going to see this film through—and around the part where the villains of the film try to take the compound and the little feral boy throws his boomerang, slicing off the fingers of one of the bad guys as he tried to catch it—the same worker, who Brian claimed gave us the okay to see the movie, walks up to us and tells us to get out.  I was embarrassed, upset, and a little scared, all at the same time.

I can’t remember what happened afterwards, if we went back to the movie that we’d paid for or if we were kicked out completely, but I’ll never forget that first taste of seeing an R-rated movie in a theater setting.  It’d be another year or so before I was able to see the film in its entirety—most likely on Showtime—but I’d finally seen it and I’d become a fan of Mel Gibson all over again.

One thing about this film at the time that I hadn’t discovered was that it’s actually a sequel to an Australian film called Mad Max.  As a matter of fact, when looking up this title, has it listed as Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, and I believe I actually saw the Blu-Ray in the store the other day with that actual title printed on the cover.  I guess back then, the first film wasn’t that well known in America, so Warner Bros. packaged this film to look like a stand-alone film.  And it works, because I hadn’t known it was a sequel until the first film gained some popularity in the States.  But anyone can watch this film without the knowledge of the first one, due to the recap or explanation as to why the world (in Australia anyway) went to hell in a hand basket.

So that’s how The Road Warrior begins, with a narrative voice-over (by Harold Baigent), explaining how war ravaged the world as the oil and fuel economy collapsed, leaving gangs of scavengers killing and pillaging for fuel.  In the midst of all this, it left Max (Mel Gibson) a shell of a man after gangs of scavengers took the lives of his wife and infant child.  But Max drives to survive, as he and his faithful (and clever) dog scavenge as well to get fuel and whatever other necessities they can find.  After Max is attacked by, then gets the upper hand on, a man who calls himself the Gyro Captain (due to him using a gyrocopter as his means of travel), they come upon a compound containing a refinery.  The place is under siege by a large gang on motorcycles and hot rods, all led by a big muscular masked man who calls himself Lord Humungus, and Max decides to help the compound and the people living there to protect their fuel as long as he can get some in return for his services.

The director, George Miller, certainly had what it took—and of course he still does—to make a blow-em-up, ass-kicking action flick of Hollywood proportions.  Being that this was a foreign film—an Ausploitation flick to boot—you’d think it’d be a little subpar.  But, on the contrary, this movie went above and beyond Hollywood movies of its time pale in comparison.  Miller just knew how to film this, obviously mounting cameras on the sides of the vehicles or even building platforms on the sides of the cars and trucks to place him in the action as he filmed.  But all that he did unquestionably made the film what it was, dangerous or not.  He knew what the audience wanted to see and feel, giving them front row in all these crazy scenes, and it worked terrifically.
with the chase scenes, explosions and stunts…so much so, that

Speaking of all the action and stunt work in the film, there was an over indulgence of it, making any fan of the genre happy beyond belief.  I don’t think the film would’ve been as successful if all these stunts weren’t in the film and we might’ve never heard of Mel Gibson today (I’m not sure whether that’s good or bad).  I’ll say this about the stunt work in this film: the one memorable stunt we see in this film is the guy flying off the car and flipping head-over-foot in the air and, to this day, I’ve never seen a more fantastic stunt in a movie.  Side note, however, I heard that was a mistake in coordination and the guy accidentally hit the car and the flipping was unintentional, causing the stuntman to be seriously hurt (I believe you can tell that he broke his leg in that scene if you put the DVD in slow motion).

With all the intense action and dystopian themes involved in this film, my favorite part is actually a funny lighthearted scene involving Max’s dog.  After getting the edge over the Gyro Captain, Max ties him up and puts him in the backseat of his car.  A shotgun is positioned with a string tied to the trigger, with the other end
tied to a dog toy that Max’s dog has in his mouth.  As they’re all driving along the Outback, a rabbit hopping in the distance catches the dog’s eye, worrying the Captain.  I’ve got to say, that dog was well-trained.

Anyway, I’ve gushed about The Road Warrior long enough, so let’s get my final “bit” on it.

The film is a classic, definitely putting Australian films on the movie-making map.  George Miller made something here that outshined most other futuristic films, making us believe the world might come to this one day.  Although there are some silly get-ups and situations involving the villains, overall it’s a scary look at a very dystopian world the planet might come to if we ever run out of necessary resources.  This is, by all means, my favorite Mel Gibson film…you shouldn’t miss it.

Well…that’s it for now.  So thanks for reading and I welcome any comments!

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Friday the 13th: A New Beginning

 that I believed that that was the final chapter (as the title references).  Sometimes I enjoy part five for what it'd tried to do, going off in another direction and away from the Jason Voorhees narrative, much like John Carpenter tried to do with Halloween III within that franchise.  But other times, I just get angry that they thought that Friday the 13th fans would accept this entry and think everything was hunky-dory.  But that's where 1985's Friday the 13th: A New Beginning goes and we have to accept it.  For all the problems that it has, Danny Steinmann had done a good enough job directing it with what he had to work with.

Before I get too far into my critique of this film and give away too much, let me synopsize the story.

The film opens, optimistically, with the return of Corey Feldman as Tommy Jarvis, walking up to the cemetery where Jason is buried in a crude grave.  The rain is pouring down as he spies a couple of teenaged boys coming up, whooping it up as they arrive with some shovels.  Tommy hides in the brush and watches as the boys dig up the grave, only to have Jason rise up out of his coffin and kill the boys.  He then turns towards Tommy and starts making his way in the direction of him, closer and closer, until Tommy screams.  The adult Tommy (John Shepherd) wakes up from the nightmare in the back of a state institution van as he's
brought to Pinehurst Halfway House, where he's met by Pam Roberts (Melanie Kinnaman) and Matthew Letter (Richard Young), who run the house.  He's quiet and reserved, not talking to anyone and keeping to himself, but seems to be set off easily when provoked.  One day, one of the members of the halfway house, Joey (Dominick Brascia), is brutally attacked and killed by another member, Victor Faden (Mark Venturini), with an ax.  Soon after Victor's taken away, people start getting murdered.  Is it Tommy?  Did Victor escape and go on a killing spree?  Or are the visions of Jason that Tommy experiences real?  One thing for sure, someone is going around dressed like Jason Voorhees, complete with hockey mask, and killing people off.

Now, I've got to say, this movie affected me quite a bit.  Not because it was scary or gory or fascinating in any manner, but because it made me not want to go to another Friday the 13th movie for a long time.  I did feel cheated after leaving the theater way back when and didn't return until part eight showed up in movie houses in 1989.  I had seen the downfall, right away, that the franchise was going into and didn't think there'd ever be a future with someone other than Jason being the masked killer.  Of course, I was right about the downfall, but wrong about the change in killer.  We all know that Jason comes back, but the box office returns were never the same.

For what it's worth, however, this is not a bad movie by Friday the 13th standards.  In fact, there are some great kills, inventive and terrifying, and the film has almost the same feel as the first four.

Okay, so here are a few questions or concerns I had about this movie.

First off, within the film, the "Jason" introduced has a different hockey mask than what was featured in the previous three films.  Maybe it was because an identical mask couldn't be found by whomever was copying Jason's modus operandi, but Tommy was able to get an identical one at the end of the film, so what gives?  I guess I can accept that the filmmakers wanted to give the killer his own identity and make it different than the previous Jason.?  I don't know.  But one glaring issue I have is that the movie poster presents a completely different mask than the one in previous movies and the one in this movie!

Another thing that sticks out is the gratuitous nudity within the film, which is included in a few scenes.  One scene is understandable as it shows how two of the kids in the halfway house, Tina and Eddie (Debi Sue Voorhees and John Robert Dixon), are constantly having sex (I guess that's the problem that led them to a halfway house? Nymphomania?) and go out to a remote location to do so, making the scene seem normal.  But later on, after Robin (Juliette Cummins) laughs at Jake (Jerry Pavlon) as he tells her he wants to be with her, she heads to bed, feeling bad for what she had done, and strips to her undies, going to bed bare-breasted.  I know people out there choose to sleep in the nude, but in a halfway house?  It seemed a little too gratuitous.  And let's not forget the "it's showtime!" scene when Lana (Rebecca Wood) opens up her blouse in the mirror to expose her breasts.  Even though I'm a guy, I think it's a little much and doesn't belong.

Lastly, why feature a little outspoken kid to be the sort of sidekick survivor?  I guess the filmmakers felt they needed some street-smart adolescent like Reggie (Shavar Ross) to spice things up.  Or maybe because of his star power he had on "Diff'rent Strokes" at the time as Dudley?  Who knows?

The movie is definitely and unquestionably 80s in a lot of scenes, but in others, I wonder what the wardrobe staff was thinking.  Like, for instance, why the hell were those two guys, Pete and Vinnie (Corey Parker and Anthony Barrile) dressed like Marlon Brando from the film, The Wild One?  Were they going to meet up with Demon (Miguel A. Núñez Jr.) and head off to a leather fashion party?  Even back then, when I usually ignored things that didn't make sense, I wondered about their choice of attire.

Overall, this movie could've gotten some respect if it just laid off the comedy-or their futile try at it.  The whole scene with the leather-clad Vinnie singing that stupid made-up song as he's trying to start the car is so lame, it makes me feel sorry for the actor.  Also, who can forget the neighboring hicks, Ethel and Junior (Carol Locatell and Ron Sloan), that live adjacent to the halfway house?  What about the paramedic, Duke (Caskey Swaim), who jokes when looking at the hacked up body of Joey?  All of these scenes fell flat and were not funny at all.  The only scenes that crack me up involve the institute worker, Billy (Bob DeSimone).  The first is when he arrives at the halfway house and tries to get Tommy to get out of the van is pretty funny, especially the little tongue waggling he gives Pam behind her back.  The other is when he's waiting for Lana and the little routine he goes through to coke himself up...I can't help but laugh every time.

My final "bit" on Friday the 13th: A New Beginning is that the movie had good intentions and you can see that when watching it.  In comparison to the films before it, they belong together in cinematography and direction, but the omission of Jason Voorhees from the story is a definite detriment to the film.  If they'd only gone with the resurrection aspect of Jason, like they did in part six, this movie would've been a whole lot better.  But I do remember what a cheat it was when I first saw part six, thinking it was impossible because Tommy must hacked him to pieces in part four.  But this one was a good try and it's still a blast to watch.

Thanks for reading and I welcome any comments!

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