FILM REVIEW: MAD MAX (1979)

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Nightrider: I am the Nightrider. I’m a fuel injected suicide machine. I am the rocker, I am the roller, I am the out-of-controller!

Director: George Miller

Starring: Mel Gibson, Joanne Samuel, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Steve Bisley, Tim Burns, Roger Ward

Synopsis: In the near future an Australian policeman pursues a gang terrorizing the streets.

From the opening shots of Mel Gibson we only get hints of how much of a bad-ass this character is. We don’t see him directly in the opening scene however director George Miller builds him up by showing us only close-ups of his shades as he sits in his car waiting for trouble to come to him. He is the classic Western loner in the style of Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name Trilogy. We are automatically transported into this insane world where cops are wearing leather jackets and are speeding around in souped up cars racing with crazy deranged gang members who are screaming insane monologues as their women look on with equally deranged affection. Welcome to George Miller’s vision of a dystopian Australian future, with endless roads and insane drivers who battle their war in their cars. The film is quintessentially Australian with its shots of people commuting in local pubs and speaking in Australian slang. It also has this hyperactive style that would be replicated into later Australian films such as Strictly Ballroom and Chopper. Everyone talks fast, and the camera cuts and pans at a break neck speed. The style is undeniably its own and Miller shows a maturity as a filmmaker from this original film in the Mad Max franchise.

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The plot is a simple cat and mouse chase between Max and Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne). Toecutter’s gang are terrorizing the simple suburbs of this unnamed town in Australia. The film doesn’t even turn into a revenge thriller until the final fifteen minutes. I remember seeing this film as a child and (spoiler alert) I remembered his family dying a lot sooner and Gibson going on a bloody revenge fueled killing spree. Re-watching the film today it is not the case. Miller is more interested in world building. Introducing the lone heroic cop who can take down any gang. He juxtaposes the early scenes of Max’s heroics with Max at home with his family in a peaceful environment enjoying time with his wife and baby son. These scenes show a suburb not too far away from 70s Australia and most of this first film take place in a pretty standard Australian suburban setting. It is not until the sequel that Max wonders a barren sand filled landscape. This film is centered mostly in the real 70s Australia despite the police wearing casual biker outfits. Most of the police drive souped up cars to pursue criminals. Most of the film revolves around Toecutter’s gang terrorizing the town. It is a classic western in that way with the townspeople being terrorized by a gang and a lone gunslinger coming to their aid. However this film takes place in Australia and the lone gunslinger is replaced with a cop who loves his car.

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Gibson is fantastic as the hero showing both a soft side with his family and a dangerous side on the streets pursuing his prey. Hugh Keays-Byrne’s Toecutter is a deranged psycho the perfect flipside of Max’s hero. Miller’s direction is fantastic with breathtaking car chases throughout. His film is an iconic classic however it isn’t perfect. It doesn’t reach the highs of a dystopian classic such as A Clockwork Orange even though the gangs appear as though they walked straight off of Kubrick’s set. The film is ultimately a standard cop versus gang drama. Films such as Kill Bill, Death Proof and Drive are clearly influenced by this film and are ultimately superior. The film introduces us to a world of deranged bikers, wild cops and oblivious bystanders but the world building doesn’t reach its heights until its superior sequel.

Rating: 3.5 Stars

FILM REVIEW: THE AVENGERS AGE OF ULTRON (2015)

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Tony Stark: Shit!
Steve Rogers: Language.

Director: Joss Whedon

Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, James Spader, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Don Cheadle and Samuel L. Jackson

Synopsis: As The Avengers defeat the remaining forces of Hydra a new threat arises as Tony Stark and Bruce Banner attempt to develop a new security system for the world. When their experiment backfires, Ultron is born. A computer program/robot who wishes to exterminate humans from earth.

With mammoth expectations from Marvel Studios after last year’s critical and box office successes Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy, The Avengers Age of Ultron arrives with slight disappointment from fans. It is an impossible task for Whedon to top his first attempt of combining Marvels favourite heroes in 2012’s The Avengers. It is also an impossible task to keep the Marvel brand fresh off last years quite surprising hits especially Guardians of the Galaxy. However with a deeper look you can see that Whedon actually has topped the original with better chemistry between the heroes, a better villain with James Spader’s sly Ultron and bigger and better action set pieces beginning with a snowy attack on Hydra’s base in the opening scene.

This photo provided by Disney/Marvel shows, Chris Evans as Captain America/Steve Rogers, in the new film, "Avengers: Age Of Ultron." The movie releases in U.S. theaters on May 1, 2015. (Jay Maidment/Disney/Marvel via AP)

Avengers Age of Ultron actually delivers what everyone wants; nothing more and nothing less. Perhaps that is the issue with the Marvel brand in general, with every film released we are teased with the next feature. In 2011 we knew with the releases of the original Thor and Captain America and the success of the two Iron Man films that we would have an Avengers film the year later. With the ending of The Avengers and the reveal of Thanos we knew we would get an Infinity Wars Avengers film coming up. With Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World we knew we would get an Avengers sequel in 2015. There are no more surprises in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Even with the release of Age of Ultron we know next year we’ll get Captain America: Civil War. Marvel has even released their five year plan to the press so we all know what adventure our heroes will go on eventually. This takes the surprises and stakes out of the picture for Avengers AOU because we know Iron Man and Captain America will face off in next years Civil War and Thor will fight again in a further sequel in 2016. All we can do is try and enjoy this particular adventure on its own terms even through we know no one significant will die and nothing significant will happen that will alter Marvel’s five year plan.

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However sitting in the cinema and watching the action unfold, listening to Whedon’s witty banter come out of my favourite heroes mouths I can’t help but feel in love. I love Downey Jr’s snark and wit in Tony Stark, I love Evans naivety and stoic in Captain America, I love Hemsworth’s viking swagger as Thor, Johansson’s sexy Black Widow and Ruffalo’s brooding Bruce Banner. There is also Renner’s new and improved Hawkeye, Cheadle’s over-eager Rhodey and Anthony Mackie’s dedication to Cap in Sam Wilson. There are new surprises with Spader’s brilliant Ultron, Paul Bettany’s unique and amazing The Vision and Elizabeth Olsen’s sexy and scary Wanda Maximoff. Unfortunately Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Quicksilver/Pietro Maximoff is a bit of a letdown after last year’s superior version in X-Men Days of Future Past. As you can see I’m a huge fan of Marvel and even though I know where each franchise is going I can still enjoy this adventure on its own terms and I think in time people will look back at this as one of the better adventures in the Marvel canon. Even though there are multiple plot lines, too many characters and the novelty of the heroes coming together for the first time removed, I think Whedon still excels as a comic book film auteur. It is a shame he is leaving the franchise however I believe he will deliver another excellent film soon.

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With excellent performances, brilliant action set pieces and a great villain in Ultron, Whedon has delivered a worthy sequel to The Avengers and also paves the way for more adventures that I can’t wait to see.

Rating: 4 Stars