Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Flawed creatures, all of us, some more than others -- some WAY more than others

For some reason, my friend Moshe cancelled his plans to join me at the Mad Max triple feature last Saturday night at the American Cinematheque/Egyptian Theatre. If I had to guess, it might have something to do with him finding out that Mel Gibson was going to be there, and since Moshe's a fuckin' Jew bastard who's only a couple years away from joining his fellow Christ-killers in their secret underground Hebrew cabal where they run all of the world's affairs, he knew he wouldn't be able to handle my man the Gibs preaching the gospel of Truth. Whatever. By the way, don't tell Moshe I said any of this, because I don't want to ruin my chances in Hollywood.

Anyway, I arrived and tried to get a refund on Moshe's ticket but the guy said No Can Do, but if I wanted to sell it to someone in the standby line, then Yes Can Do. So I went to the line and told the folks that I had one ticket for anyone who wanted it, and a man in a track suit -- who in the movie of his life would be played by latter-day Barry Bostwick -- raised his hand. I gave it to him free of charge, because unlike Moshe and his people, it's not always about money for me. As I walked away, I thought about what I just did, and rather than feel good about it, I felt like an absolute schmuck.

It was a long line that snaked out into the sidewalk, forcing the movie lovers to mix with the tourists, the homeless, the fake homeless, mi gente waiting for the bus to take them to their second (or third) job, the increasingly drunk club/bar-hoppers, and of course, the unsettlingly nice Scientologists. With all of this local color around, it was easy to miss the folks from Wasteland Weekend who prowled the Egyptian grounds while dressed as characters from the Mad Max series. The Last of the V-8 Interceptors was also there; parked in the courtyard, it was available for pictures to anyone with a cell phone camera worth a shit -- which my camera most certainly was not because money-wise, a good phone takes a back seat to rent & movies.

I recognized some of the volunteers; there was the long-haired dude in glasses from the Aero who seems like a nice guy, and there was Louis C.K.'s future wife, Jade Luber, taking surveys from the people in line. The introduction was handled by Grant Moninger, also of the Aero, and he did the usual spiel of the upcoming films playing at both American Cinematheque joints. But this time he said something that was new to me -- for these kinds of intros anyway -- he mentioned how one of the upcoming films on the schedule was going to be shown in a beautiful digital presentation. He talked about how the theaters were equipped with the various filters and line-doublers/triplers/quadruplers/whatever-the-fuck-they-are and that it wouldn't be like watching a Blu-ray at home, it would be better.

Film is Q from Juice and Digital is Bishop. You da past, bro. My time is now. It's a pixelated world and we're just a bunch of 1's and 0's occupying it.

Ah, what am I am saying. It could be worse, you know. We could be living in the pre-apocalyptic world of Mad Max; "a few years from now..." where one can't drive without getting fucked with (and then just fucked) by the motorcycle gangs. They chase you down, smash up your vehicle, and if you're lucky they just kill you. But most likely, you won't be lucky and you'll end up as violated as your ride by the end of the ordeal. Some of these gangers, they're not just psychopaths, drug fiends or a combo of the two, they're also these fuckin' sexual monsters who evidently always need to get off and they will get off -- to either gender.

And not in a bisexual way, either; like Red from The Shawshank Redemption would say, you'd have to be human for that, and these assholes sure as fuck don't make the cut. I'm sure even animals and the recently deceased are on the menu with this scum. I don't know about gang leader Toecutter and his boy Johnny, though, they might have their own little thing worked out; something about that scene when he shoves the shotgun barrel into his boy's mouth -- telling him to keep his sweet mouth shut -- that just gets me sooo  hard  creeped out.

So yeah, the near-future is all kinds of fucked up. On the one hand, you have these motorcycle hooligans doing their thing and terrorizing all those wide-open spaces & highways (aka Australia), but on the other, the captain of the MFP is a big, bald, mustache-wearing bear of a man named Fifi who likes to water plants half-naked with only a pair of leather pants and a scarf around his neck, so obviously there's been some social advances at least. Good for the citizens of this blighted place, I say, that's admirably progressive. Or maybe shit's so fucked up that people have other things to worry about, like hoping that a train carrying the recently deceased member of a particularly dangerous gang doesn't stop in their small burg.

That recently deceased motor-ganger was some psycho named Nightrider, and he got his trying to outrun the MFP -- which was working for him until they got Mad Max on his ass. Something else that came to mind while watching Nightrider's car turn into various fireballs and plumes of smoke; Nightrider was driving with a female passenger when his shit got exploded, and this chick must've been very lacking in the Good Impression department, because no one ever mentions her ever again, she didn't even get the train-riding coffin treatment. Either that or she was a real bitch and not deserving of acknowledgment. But how do you come off as a bitch to a bunch of animals? Holy shit, she must've been really fuckin' depraved, then.

You know how these movies go; it's just a matter of time before the leader of the gang and Max tangle assholes in one way or another. It's all going to be played out in the Thunderdome that is the highway --
and it's going to involve a lot of awesome sound effects of engines revving the fuck up and tires peeling the fuck out. C'mon, you've seen this film already, you know how much it owns. Those shots of motherfuckers' eyes popping out before eating shit permanently? That might as well be our eyes while watching this film (and the second).

I used to watch Mad Max and Duel so many times as a kid, which is probably why I'm all fucked up, but unlike Duel, I think I liked Mad Max even more in my horrible state of adulthood. It wasn't just the car/motorcycle chases, it was the style of the film that really got the ol' cinematic geek muscle pumping. George Miller directed the shit out of this movie; it's like maybe it was bugging him how small and practically non-existent the Australian film community was, like it fell on his shoulders to really make a name for his country and show the rest of the world how they fuckin' do shit Down Under.

He got cinematographer David Eggby and told him this wasn't some fuckin' television cop show where the photography endgame was to put the thing on sticks and make sure they got the proper focus and exposure -- NO! They were gonna take that camera, strap it down to a vehicle and place it as low to the fuckin' street as possible, and then...then they were gonna gun it down the highway, all the way to redline levels. You can tell when they did it that way, and you can tell when the actors were probably like "Fuck that shit, I'm not gonna do my thing while riding a motorcycle at top-speed! I'm an actor!", because that's when the occasional use of undercranked cameras, sped up footage and skipped frames came in, to make that shit look even faster than they were really going.

Any other film, that would've looked weak. But because Mad Max is a film that feels like somebody's fucked-up dream after drinking a gallon of Victoria's Bitter the night before (followed by a pint of XXXX), even the goofy shit feels right at home. In your face shot compositions, Kurosawa wipes, dissolves upon dissolves -- and that's just the visuals, man. The music, holy shit, the music -- it's from a dude named Brian May, not to be confused by the Brian May from Queen, but it's an easy mistake to make because the score is a 6-ft. muscle-bound bully of operatic emotion that kicks sand in the face of the 90-pound weakling known as Subtlety. The sound mix is all kinds of tainted Monster Energy Drink; in addition to the aforementioned awesome sounds of highway-rapeage, there's also fucked-up sounds of birds on meth or something, along with whatever other weird tragedies of nature they got going down in that country.

The print we watched was the original Australian version; the American one that came out back in the day, that was dubbed with Yank accents and even had some of the slang changed so that we can understand what they're talking about, on account of us United Staters being dumb assholes, I guess. I have to admit, though, I actually prefer the American soundtrack; even when it's expertly matched with the lip movements, dubbing never sounds completely natural, it sounds off. In the case of Mad Max, that just adds another welcome level of otherworldly-ness to the proceedings. It's one thing to hear Fifi declare "We're gonna give 'em back their heroes!" in his natural Aussie dialect, but it's another more awesome thing to hear that line in a voice more befitting a super-villain on some long forgotten 70's cartoon.

Following the first film, Geoff Boucher of the L.A. Times' Hero Complex site came out and introduced Mr. Gibson, who received a standing ovation from the packed house. The guy sitting in front of me seemed particularly happy about Gibson not being very tall; "He's like a midget!" I'm not sure, but I think it went for about 30-40 minutes, this interview, and you bet your sweet ass they weren't gonna open this up to the audience for a Q&A, what are you, crazy?! And just to make sure some evil Jew terrorist wasn't gonna jump down and stab Mel with one of his horns for speaking the truth, there were big Black men in suits situated near both aisles, who I reckon were there to protect The Gibs from Hebrew vengeance. They've seen Inglourious Basterds, they know how Jews get down.

He was very restrained; this wasn't the Mel Gibson you would see yukking it up/pranking it down with his co-stars during an Entertainment Tonight behind-the-scenes exclusive, this was Braveheart audio commentary Mel Gibson. He made the occasional joke and funny aside, but something tells me that he'd have been a lot more animated and there'd be a lot less of him looking down on the ground, had this interview been done 8 years ago, pre-Passion, pre-Sugar Tits, pre-You Should Just Fuckin' Smile And Bloooow Meeee. At one point, he started hitting himself on the head while trying to remember something, which amused me and made me think that maybe he was about to pull a Riggs and poke Boucher in the fuckin' eyes or something. But aside from that, the content of the Boucher/Gibson tete-a-tete (plus approximately 650 other tetes) was pretty average when you get right down to it.

The elephant in the room was briefly acknowledged in a vague way, the whole "recent events" thing; Gibson's response got applause from the audience.

The Gibs gets more out of being a filmmaker than an actor, says the man; you're in charge and you get to tell the crew where to put the camera and you get to tell the actors how you want them to fuckin' perform. He brought up a couple projects he's been working on; the let's-get-these-Jews-back-on-my-side film about the Maccabees, and another collaboration with Randall Wallace about the Vikings, called Berserker. Both films sound like they're gonna be bloody, and at one point Mel said something about the "art of torture" or something like that, which I think confirmed to the audience that yes, torture and Mel Gibson go together like bagels and lox. Also, he referred to Tina Turner as "Thunder Thighs", so that just might be a Gibson thing, giving nicknames to the ladies based on their physical attributes. So calm down, police woman, that Sugar Tits thing is just my boy Mel being Mel.

He spoke about all three films, mostly confirming stories about the making of Mad Max from the IMDB trivia page and audio commentaries on the DVD, like how he got the role, or about the fate of the stuntman who got smashed in the back of the head by a fuckin' motorcycle (he bled profusely but shook it off and survived). He mentioned stunt coordinator/Stunt Rock-er Grant Page (to some scattered applause by people who know what the fuck is up); Page taught stage fighting and various other physical things at a drama school (where Gibson and the actor who played the Goose attended), and he got the gig because he was pretty much the only guy in Australia who knew his shit when it came to stunts.

Some choice quotes were posted on this awesome Twitter page, thank God. Saves me the time of trying to remember. But I'll bring up a few things, anyway. He said that George Miller was a cool dude, he was very precise and analytical with his planning and shot lists, and as a result, there was very little wasted footage. Also, Miller had no problem whatsoever with telling you what he was doing and how he planned to do it, if you asked him. He wouldn't pull some filmmaker's secret bullshit on you. Sometimes Miller would insist on doing things his way, even if they weren't necessarily the way things were done in films (like screen direction), and that might have been a result of Miller and company pretty much learning as they went along.

Regarding the 4th Mad Max film that's in the works, Gibson said he was involved for a while until a few years ago (he didn't elaborate on why he's not involved anymore, but he and Miller are still buds). He thought Tom Hardy was an interesting choice and a good dude; about 6 months ago, they had lunch together and this was apparently Hardy's doing, as a way to get the old man's approval. Gibson gave Hardy his blessing and then told him something fucked-up and sprinkled it with passive-aggressiveness (which of course I can't remember) to basically keep the motherfucker on his toes and not make it THAT easy for the guy.

The second film is his favorite, the one that he felt totally accomplished what they were trying to accomplish with the first film (but didn't from lack of doing shit like this in the first place); he praised it for being kinetic and relentless. Most of the climactic truck chase was done by never moving the vehicles at all, they'd just shoot it at angles where you couldn't see the road and intercut it with the insane stunt footage. The third film, he said, wasn't sure what it was trying to be (I heard some audience members mumble in agreement). Based on what Mel was saying, it sounded like Miller had lost the heart to continue filming Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome because his producer/good friend/brother-from-another-mother Byron Kennedy had died in a helicopter crash. That's why the last one is credited to two directors, George Miller and George Ogilvie.

The Gibs left and the second film, Mad Max 2 (or The Road Warrior, if you wanna be that way) was next. Dude, I already wrote too fuckin' much, I'm gonna give this one short shrift because I love it so much. I almost don't want to ruin such a masterpiece with my bullshit about how much it owns -- which it does. Besides, you already know that Mad Max 2 is the shit, one of the best sequels ever made -- sure, it kind of pulls a Phantasm II and sacrifices some of that nightmare feel for a more straight-ahead manner of storytelling, but action-wise this motherfucker takes it to another level.

This film is another badass example of stunts being performed in that long-gone era that Stuntman Mike referred to as the "all or nothing" days. I have no idea how half of the shit done here did not result in either a sudden boom in business for Australian cemeteries or at the very least, a bunch of drunken Aussies tearing paralyzed ass and burning wheelchair rubber down the highways. You have guys jumping onto moving vehicles, jumping in between moving vehicles, or being strapped to the fuckin' things.

This time, it's a post-apocalyptic world; humanity finally finished with what it does best -- destroying each other. Now Max is aimlessly driving through the wastelands, with only his dog for company and that bad V-8 to take 'em both. Unlike today, gasoline is an issue and that's why he, the psycho-gangers, and the lucky unfortunates occupying an oil refinery are all up in each other's business. If that wasn't bad enough, it's pretty obvious that baths won't be in anyone's life itinerary. But at least there's a cute chick who looks like a member of some 80's Aussie pop band AND a hot Amazon chick with a bow & arrow to scare the creeps away. Fuck showers.

All this, plus Vernon Wells as Wez. The audience applauded when his name came up in the opening credits, as they should. In the cinema of my imagination, there's a totally fucked up buddy movie starring two Vernon Wells characters: Wez from this film, and Bennett from Commando. I don't think Gus Van Sant is interested in action movies, so I'd probably have to settle for Roland Emmerich.

I guess David Eggby had better things to do, because for this one they got muthafuckin' Dean Semler to step in and it's like this guy didn't miss a goddamn beat. If anything, this one has more of a Just Do It attitude in the lensing department; he and Miller were probably like Who gives a shit if the sky and lighting constantly changes in-between shots, the audience is gonna be too busy trying not to have their asses handed back to them for the 17th time, on account of all the hyperkinetic ownage we're doling out, mate.

As far as the dialogue goes, Mad Max is a fuckin' Woody Allen joint compared to Mad Max 2; there are plenty of sequences that are all visual and no dialogue. Max himself is a man of very few words, leaving it up to those settlers at the refinery and Lord Humungus (who just might be one of my all-time favorite film creations; he looks like something Miller doodled up in junior high during class and always remembered to use him one day, and to make things even better, he gave him a foreign accent) to do all the blabbing.

Which is why it's disappointing to see Max chatting motherfuckers up again in the third film, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Now, I'd seen this flick way back when I was a kid. I remember thinking it was OK. But over the years, it's developed a reputation as the Godfather III of the Max trilogy. Me, I liked The Godfather Part III. As for Thunderdome, I knew one day I would watch the film again, with older eyes, and give it the chance that many would refuse to give; by the time of the third film, the theater had lost about 2/3 of the crowd.

It means well, this movie, it really does. I'm giving it props for trying to take it to another level entirely; no longer content to be a lean-mean street battle joint, this Max is trying to go all epic on us -- even going as far as chucking composer Brian May for Lawrence of Arabia's Maurice Jarre. No dissing Jarre, he was the man and all, but c'mon Miller, stay true to the homies, man. Besides, you lose an important element in making it feel like part of the trilogy by pulling that shit.

With the first film you watched a decent dude lose his way and become the worst case scenario of a Hard Motherfucker -- he lost everything and really had nothing to live for. He became just another road killer and that's why to me, that final shot in the first film kinda breaks my heart because you're pretty much watching a fuckin' zombie, a terminal crazy. Then in the second one, you watch Max slowly, gradually learn how to give a fuck about others. By then, I think that was all you needed to tell in the Max saga. Where else are you gonna go with that character?

But I guess Miller had to continue with the series, mostly because of his growing obsession with pigs -- pig wind chimes in part one, random pigs at the refinery in part two, and pigs pigs pigs in part three. Not only pigs, but pig fecal matter as well. Jesus Christ, Miller, what the fuck? Why did you have to go there? Fuckin' pig shit everywhere, fuckin' huge tanks of pig shit to create methane as fuel for Bartertown, one of the main settings of this joint. This is one of those unfortunate films that manages to convey how horrible everything must smell, which is a real accomplishment given how unbathed part two was.

In a way, Beyond Thunderdome is a test run for George Miller's pig & penguin joints; it's family friendly (before Live Free or Die Hard and The Expendables 2, we had Conan and Mad Max losing their balls, ratings-wise) and involves a strong main character surrounded by a battalion of colorful wackadoo characters. Also, I guess Miller figured that since the audiences loved The Feral Kid in the last sequel, well, hey, how about a whole group of children for part three! And in this one, they'll talk! Money in the bank, mate! Then Miller's lackey said "Maybe the audience wants more of Mel crashing vehicles and double-barrel shotgunning them?" and Miller responded with "You're fired, mate."

The first third of the film is decent enough in a slightly diminished returns sort-of-way, but after the Thunderdome duel, the Give-A-Fuck factor falls hard. I don't know, maybe if this was just called Beyond Thunderdome and was about someone else other than Max, it would be OK. But no, it's a Mad Max movie, one with no chases until the end, and even the chase is frustratingly hot and cold. It's not a piece of shit, just a depressing drop in Good Times compared to the last two. At least it's primarily about the main character, unlike Once Upon A Time In Mexico, where Robert Rodriguez took the Mariachi series to Epic-ville but relegated Antonio Banderas to damn near second banana status.

Eh, at least Tina Turner was fun to watch. That's why we see less of her and more of those goddamn kids.

Anyway, I'll forgive George Miller for this mistake, the same way I forgave the Jews for murdering my Christ. MEL GIBSON FOREVER.