“Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015) dir. George Miller, scr. George Miller / Brendan McCarthy / Nico Lathouris, editor: Margaret Sixel

Believe the hype.  “Mad Max: Fury Road” is one of the most ferocious, heart-stopping, breathtaking movies ever made. When previews for this film started appearing several months ago, they looked amazing, but I stopped short of getting my hopes up because I’ve seen countless terrific, expertly edited trailers for films that wound up being much less than the trailers promised.  Then the reviews started pouring in and not only were they rapturous, they were better than most serious Oscar-contender films usually receive.  Again, I tempered my enthusiasm, because even mass critical opinion can be wrong.

But I was beyond pleased to see that not only did “Fury Road” live up to the hype, it exceeded it on many levels.  As much as director George Miller redefined action films with the first two “Mad Max” films back in the late 1970s / early 1980s, Miller tops himself with “Fury Road” with some of the most brilliantly staged action sequences I’ve ever seen in a motion picture.  I could try to describe what Miller does here, but it would sound lame, if not ridiculous or cheesy.  What Miller does here could have gone disastrously wrong, but he pulls it off beautifully. Trust me, you just have to see the film to know what I’m talking about.  A big part of Miller’s success is due to Margaret Sixel’s wonderfully insane editing.  If there’s a shoe-in for an Oscar this year, it’s for Sixel.

The biggest surprise about “Fury Road” is that while Tom Hardy’s titular character Max Rockatansky is in almost every scene of this film, Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa character is the heart of the film.  Theron’s performance is not only the equal of Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley from the “Alien’ franchise (the gold standard of female action characters), Theron exceeds the very high bar set by Weaver.  Furiosa is a character that has been living her entire life facing unspeakable horrors to not only gain the evil leader Immortan Joe’s trust, but to use that trust to escape Joe’s reign of terror and gain the freedom for Joe’s multiple concubines.  This is someone who has been operating on slow burn for multiple decades, someone who has had to keep her emotions close to her vest to risk her life to save the lives of others.  Theron’s character is not only brave, but is someone who has to constantly improvise when things don’t go according to plan.  If Theron does not receive an Oscar nomination for her performance in “Fury Road,” if not the win, it will be a grave injustice.

And this is not to slight Hardy’s performance as Max in the least.  Hardy is a more than worthy substitute for Mel Gibson who justifiably became a star after his turn in the first two “Mad Max” films.  Hardy portrays the right mix of bravery and insanity that we expect of Max.  But despite the “Mad Max” title of the film, this is really Furiosa’s story.  While Max (again) learns to regain his humanity, I hope this won’t be theme of future Max installments.  If both Gibson and Hardy can sell us on the fact that they’re not numbed-out nihilists by the end of “Road Warrior” and “Fury Road” respectively, hopefully whatever screenplays accompany future Max films will take the character further instead of repeating the formula again.  But again, this is not to slight “Fury Road.”  This is the first Max film in 30 years and if we need to be reminded of the original trope, that’s fine.  Just please, Mr. Miller, take the character further in future installments.

I’m afraid if I say anymore, it will dilute your enjoyment of “Fury Road” if you haven’t seen it yet.  Despite the unanimous critical praise, please note that this is an extremely violent film and if you are queasy about such things, you will not like this no matter what praise I or others bestow upon it.  But I will say that the hype is justified and “Fury Road” is a film for the ages, if not a classic.

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“Robocop” (1987) dir. Paul Verhoeven

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When I first saw the preview for “Robocop” in the summer of 1987, I rolled my eyes and thought it looked like a really stupid “Terminator” ripoff. Except for one thing. I noticed that the director listed on the final title card was Paul Verhoeven. I hadn’t seen any of Paul Verhoeven’s critically acclaimed and controversial films from Holland at that point, but I did know the name and I became mildly intrigued.

Cut to a couple of months later. The film comes out, has a great opening weekend, and lots of my peers tell me it’s really really good. So, I check out “Robocop” with good, albeit modest expectations. The movie opens with some funny satirical ads from the future. I’m thinking, “OK, this is kind of funny,” and then we go to a corporate boardroom. The corporate talking heads are introducing a new robot that will help bring order to a crime-ridden Detroit. Except that there’s a technical glitch, which results in one of the most shockingly, graphically violent scenes I’ve ever seen in a film.  Please note this is not safe for work or little ones and is the X-rated version of this scene that needed to be toned down for an American R-rating.

After the mayhem unravels, the scene ends with the CEO shaking his head at the VP who led this project, and saying “Dick, I’m very disappointed in you.” At that moment, Verhoeven’s mix of sardonic humor and sickening violence had me hooked.

The shocks and laughs continued. And not only did the nihilistic satire impress me, but the very visceral way the film was shot and edited knocked my socks off. It reminded me a lot of the first “Mad Max” film and did not look like anything else being produced by a Hollywood studio at the time. People criticize and praise Tarantino for mixing disturbing violence and humor, but Verhoeven was doing it in spades with the first “Robocop” in 1987.  This scene featuring the corporate scumbag played by Miguel Ferrer, being eliminated by a sleazy hitman played by Kurtwood Smith (who is hired by another corporate scumbag played by Ronny Cox) is a prime example of this.   I love the way the models/prostitutes casually run away from the sex/cocaine party like they’re missing an important TV show.  This clip is also not safe for work.

While the nihilistic satirical attitude impressed me, Verhoeven still has the courage to invest his story with real pathos. The scene where Murphy/Robocop starts having flashbacks to his life as a human and goes home to find his wife and child gone and an empty house is heartbreaking.

“Robocop” still holds up more than 25 years later and it’s truly amazing (as outrageous as the film seemed at the time) how much it got right about our present day American life. Corporations don’t run police forces (at least not yet), but they do run a lot of American prisons. The return and popularity of gas guzzling automobiles reached its peak in our country in 1997 (which is when the first “Robocop” takes place).

While “Robocop” could be called an American classic, I feel funny saying that since the film has Verhoeven’s very European attitude guiding the film throughout.

“Mad Max” (1979) dir. George Miller

Back in the spring of 1980, my older brother and I saw this trailer (or some variation of it) while waiting for another movie.  My brother looked at me, serious as a heart attack, and said “We have to see this movie.”  Since my Dad (who was divorced from my Mom) was coming for his monthly visit the following weekend, we were going to do everything in our power to have him take us to see this R-rated film.   To my Dad’s credit, he wanted to take us to see “The Black Stallion,” which, as far as G-rated films go, is pretty superlative.  But my brother was beyond the age where G-rated films were remotely cool, and me, by extension as a spineless younger brother, agreed 100%.  So after much cajoling, my Dad bought the tickets and we settled in for something that completely blew me away (and needless to say, was completely inappropriate for a 10-year old).   Not only was “Mad Max” full of action, but a lot of people died … in very painfully graphic ways.  I was seriously disturbed, but also completely thrilled.  Of course, my brother and I completely ruined any future chance of seeing a transgressive movie like this by excitedly telling our Mom in graphic detail what we just saw.  My Mom berated my Dad, who sheepishly shrugged his shoulders and tried to say, “I had no idea what kind of movie this was.”  Wherever you are Dad (he’s since deceased), sorry for putting you in that position … but also thank you for taking my brother and me to such an awesome flick.

I tried explaining for months to my friends how great this film was, but since the original theatrical run of “Mad Max” was completely under the radar in the United States (one of the only territories in the world where this film wasn’t a success), most just brushed me off.  It wasn’t until the 1982 sequel “The Road Warrior” made major waves that my friends got interested in seeing “Mad Max.”  As terrific as “The Road Warrior” is, the original “Mad Max” is still the best.  There’s just something so freakin’ cool with how down and dirty this flick is.  The only film that has remotely approached its original feel in my opinion is Paul Verhoeven’s “Robocop.”