“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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“Gimme Jackie” from SCTV (1983)

From the 1983-1984 Cinemax-era in SCTV’s history comes their brilliant parody of the infamous Rolling Stones documentary “Gimme Shelter” … reimagined as a vehicle for Martin Short’s brilliantly obnoxious albino lounge singer Jackie Rogers Jr. called (what else?) “Gimme Jackie.” Only instead of the Hells Angels wreaking murderous havoc on the crowd, Jackie hires the Shriners … who prove to be an all-too-formidable and frightening security force. Watch closely and you’ll see many striking similarities between Short’s Rogers character and Mike Myers’ Austin Powers character that appeared over 10 years later.

This is a great example of why SCTV was … and still is … one of the most brilliant concepts in the history of world comedy. This was humor for very culturally savvy folks and you either got it immediately or you needed to do your homework. Brilliantly funny stuff.

As a bonus, the first minute and a half features Dave Thomas’s spot-on Mel Gibson impression … when Gibson was still more of a cult actor in Canada and the United States.

Joe Eszterhas on Mel Gibson (Howard Stern Show, 6-27-2012)

Video

A great interview with legendary screenwriter Joe Eszterhas by Howard Stern from June 2012, focusing on Eszterhas’s disastrous collaboration with Mel Gibson. Pretty funny in a lot of spots, but also a fairly disturbing look at Gibson. If you’re interest is piqued, you seriously need to read the Amazon Kindle single “Heaven and Mel”which goes into much more detail. It’s the length of a 150 page book, but it’s only $2.99. One of the most harrowing and hair-raising True Hollywood Stories you’ll ever read. To be fair, aside from Mel’s minor rebuttals, we haven’t heard Mel’s complete side of the story. However, Eszterhas does make a good case and rightly or wrongly, as Mike Ovitz learned, “Don’t f–k with Eszterhas!”

Lots of bad language and adult subject matter so not safe for work or little ones.

“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.”