“I was a cop, a driver.”

That settles it: the even-numbered Mad Max movies are brilliant and the odd-numbered are just alright. This was mostly a time-wasting attempt to turn Mad Max into a trilogy. I had pretty decent memories of this from watching it on cable in the 1980’s, back when I didn’t know the rules of franchises and licensed properties and believed that all crossovers were possible, imagining Indiana Jones: Beyond Thunderdome, or Care Bears: Beyond Thunderdome. Two bears enter, one bear leaves.

Max is introduced as The Man With No Name, tying him to Eastwood’s trilogy about a loner character who keeps getting in the middle of other groups’ fights. The gyrocaptain returns, making him the only character (not the only actor) besides Max to appear in multiple movies. Over the closing credits I thought “We Don’t Need Another Hero” wasn’t as great a song as I remembered, but then it got stuck in my head for days.

The language is great anyway, with references to the pocky-clipse. But the movie’s a mess – it’s the one in this series where I least understood the characters and the stakes. Bartertown ruler Tina Turner and thunderdome champ Master Blaster are villains… or are they? I liked Master Blaster – The Mighty as a warrior. The tiny Master was Angelo Rossitto (in movies since the 1920’s) and Blaster was Paul Larsson (billed just under John Larroquette in Altered States). The action scenes were still believable, and very well filmed.

Thunderdome MC spinning the wheel of fate:

Max’s death sentence, before being rescued by the tribe of children:

If true, IMDB trivia comes in handy for once:

George Miller lost interest in the project after his friend and producer Byron Kennedy was killed in a helicopter crash while location scouting. That may explain why Miller only handled the action scenes while George Ogilvie handled the rest. The film is dedicated to Byron Kennedy.

NxNW-reminiscent finale:

Opens by telling us that yes, the first movie took place after the Oil Wars, and now we’re in the post-apocalyptic future wasteland, and I appreciate them clearing that up. I’m still not convinced that Max is all that mad, not even in the fourth movie. Gibson seemed madder in Lethal Weapon. That said, the climactic road race is pretty damned mad.

Max w/ flamethrower:

These details aside, this movie is electrifying, with an expert mix of intensity and absurdity. Setting the pattern for parts 3 and 4, Max is out in the desert minding his own business and looking for fuel when he stumbles into a situation where people are being oppressed by an evil authority. Max doesn’t set out to save them because he’s a noble hero – it’s in his own self-interest. Max doesn’t even make friends with the gyrocopter pilot who leads him to the oil town (Bruce Spence, later a Dark City alien), keeps him chained up until needed.

Gyrocaptain and snake friend:

Max has a cool dog, who comes to a predictably bad end:

Villains: hockey-masked sharpshooter Lord Humungus and his rage-filled biker enforcer Wez (Vernon Wells, villain of Commando and Innerspace), who is excellent. Also really good is the eight-year-old boomerang moppet – but not good enough to justify the proliferation of kids in part three.

Wez – there are no bad shots of this guy:

Some advanced Babe-foreshadowing via pigs, like when Dekker put a message from the Monster Squad in Night of the Creeps. I didn’t realize when watching this that Thunderdome would be absolutely full of pigs.

Virginia Hey, later a blue-skinned alien in Farscape:

Toadie reminds me of Dennis Hopper in Waterworld:

“I’m the (k)night rider. The toe cutter, he knows who I am!”

I was immediately impressed with the character names, but also confused by the movie. Max is a cop, and yes his police station looks awfully run down, but it’s not some Tom Petty wasteland future – it’s all pretty much how I assume Australia looked in 1979. So maybe the apocalypse happens before part two, and that’s when Max becomes Mad. He gets pretty close to Mad in this one – give an awesomely dangerous guy a “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” montage showing how much he loves his precious family, and guess what’s gonna happen to that family – but I wouldn’t call his murder-revenge spree against the biker gang that killed his family and his partner and broke his arm a permanent madness.

“Any longer out on that road and I’m one of them – a terminal crazy”

Other Weirdness: the big cartoon music during tense scenes. And Max locks a dude to a bomb, suggests he sever a limb to get free – an influence on SAW? Pretty straightforward, sharp-looking movie. And hey, the baddies only run down Max’s wife and kid – nobody gets tortured or raped, making this one of the more palatable 1970’s revenge movies.

We all know Mel Gibson went on to star in The Beaver and Machete Kills, but who was everyone else? Max’s wife Jessie was in early Nicole Kidman film Nightmaster. Max’s even-madder partner Goose does a lotta TV, was recently in The Great Gatsby. Max’s boss “Fifi” was once in movies called Stone and Stoner in the same year. Lead baddie Toecutter played lead baddie Immortan Joe in Mad Max 4. Shot by David Eggby (not Dave Eggers) who later shot a couple of Riddick movies.

Matt Singer: “Fury Road is an incredible achievement, one that strains so hard at the leash of the possible that it eventually breaks free and barrels headlong into the realm of insane genius. … They’ll keep making car chase movies after Fury Road, but there’s really no need.”

I loved the movie, but was maybe not as bowled-over by its lunatic intensity because was prepped by reviews. What I wasn’t prepared for was the plot twist when the movie’s first-two-thirds nonstop car chase finally stops, and with nothing but salt wasteland in front of them, Max proposes The Worst Idea Of All Time, to drive straight back through the armies that they’d just escaped and attack the citadel.

Tasha Robinson:

These are some preposterously tough people, and yet they’re perpetually at the end of their rope, and yet they perpetually keep going. That’s a very fine emotional place to keep a film pitched to for two straight hours, but the action is so well choreographed, so solid and visceral, that it works fine.

Charlize Theron stars as Furiosa, her team of escaped wives including Zoe Kravitz (Angel in X-Men 4). Max is Tom Hardy (Locke), constantly being threatened and/or helped by “albino maniac” Nicholas Hoult (Beast in X-Men 4). The main gas-masked villain played someone called Toecutter in the original Mad Max, which I should really watch sometime.

The movie was so beloved that even Cinema Scope gives it their breathless Tony Scott treatment, explaining Miller’s filmmaking techniques to keep his action scenes visceral and legible at once. “Advances in data processing and motion capture are rendered moot by Fury Road‘s proof that a basis in reality still adds a sense of weight to the proceedings impossible to recreate artificially.”

EDIT JUNE 2017:

Watched again at home,
in beautiful black and chrome.

“We are not to blame.”
“Then who killed the world?”

Two of my comic/horror heroes, John Landis and Joe Dante, make a Twilight Zone movie alone with Steven “Raiders/E.T.” Spielberg and George “Mad Max” Miller. The result could’ve been a masterpiece, but you know how anthology films always turn out… nobody does their best work, and half the episodes are always weak.

John Landis’s untitled episode has a very unlikeable Vic Morrow getting his supernatural comeuppance, becoming a Jew in nazi germany, a black man at a klan rally, a victim of the vietnam war, then back to germany, after making racist, hateful comments to his buddies (both of whom have been in John Carpenter films). It’s a grimy, unpleasant episode, a bad way to start the series, and of course it’s incomplete due to the untimely decapitation-by-helicopter of the lead actor during shooting. Landis was tried and acquitted for Morrow’s death, as well as an assistant director who Alan Smithee’d himself in the credits. Landis’s intro to the movie almost makes up for the Morrow segment – Dan Aykroyd and Albert Brooks in a car singing TV theme songs for seven long minutes while the audience wonders if they’re in the wrong theater. If they’d have gone from that part right into the Spielberg, we would’ve had an improved 75-minute movie, and Landis’s longer piece would’ve achieved legendary status. Better that everyone wonders about a possible lost masterpiece than get to see the disappointing reality.

Vic Morrow: last known photo
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Spielberg offers nothing but a big name to sell tickets and some Scatman Crothers. Explores the young-again themes he’d later revisit with Hook – Scatman gets some old folks to play kick the can at midnight and they turn young again – most opt to go back the way they were, but the British guy stays young and runs off into the night. Bill Quinn (of Dead & Buried, which I should be watching right now but I’ve stupidly turned on Organ which I don’t think I’ll finish) looks sadly after him wishing he’d gone out to play and turned young instead of being an old grump. Overly saccharine flick, maybe meant as an antidote to the unrelenting hatred of the previous piece, but maybe we’d have been better off with neither. Hmmm, but then we’ve got a great 50-minute movie, too short for theaters.

Murray Matheson in his final role, with the Scatman three years after The Shining
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Dante had made The Howling and Piranha, but not yet the creatures-and-cartoons Explorers or Gremlins, so this was a sign of things to come. SFX master Rob Bottin, fresh off John Carpenter’s The Thing, created the ‘toon extravaganza at the end. Dante’s segment has the most sinister ending here – the woman and the kid drive off into the world to unleash unknown havoc. Unlike Spielberg, Dante has actual malice and danger behind the cute TV-and-toon-influenced worlds he creates. Anthony’s sister played by Nancy Cartwright (in her film debut), who would be a saturday morning cartoon regular three years later, followed by a 20+ year stint as Bart Simpson, plays the sister who gets beamed into the television. Kathleen Quinlan (later oscar-nom for Apollo 13) was the teacher, and Jeremy Licht (who spent six years on a Jason Bateman TV show) played Anthony. Dante faves Dick Miller and Kevin McCarthy show up as a scuzzy diner operator and Anthony’s terrified “uncle”.

I wonder what happens to Kevin McCarthy after the kid leaves the house
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George Miller tries to go over the top of the Joe Dante piece, and maybe even succeeds, with Nightmare at 20,000 Feet starring John Lithgow. Lightning and wind, loopy camera angles, a plane monster, and an outrageous performance by Lithgow (as good as Raising Cain) keep this one humming. I forgot Lithgow ends up being taken away by an ambulance driven by Dan Aykroyd, ha.

Lithgow, acting sane while the stewardess is watching
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I must’ve watched this a whole lot of times on HBO in the 80’s – I remembered almost all of it. DVD quality isn’t great, or maybe the film quality wasn’t all that to begin with. Half the movie looks dingy, slightly under-lit. The sound was nice though, and I cranked it. Good thing the disc has chapter stops – I think next time I’ll go from the intro straight to Good Life and 20,000 Feet – two stories which were also well done on The Simpsons, coincidentally.

Seemed like a good time to watch the season 3 episode of the original Twilight Zone starring Buster Keaton, “Once Upon a Time” from 1961, the final credited work directed by Norman McLeod (who worked with Marx Bros., Lloyd and Keaton), written by Richard Matheson (Nightmare at 20,000 Feet). Keaton, a scientist’s janitor in 1890, tired of noise and inflation, uses a time-helmet to transport to the year 1960, where he meets another scientist (Stanley Adams of Breakfast at Tiffany’s and High School Big Shot) who desperately wants to live in the past, a simpler time. The helmet is stolen, broken and repaired, while Keaton steals some new pants and discovers traffic, television and vacuum cleaners. They both travel to 1890, where the scientist is miserable for lack of transistors and TV dinners. Pretty nice episode, obviously not creepy in any way, but then neither was that Spielberg thing.

His first good role in nine years:
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