Better In The Dark #136




Just in time for Summer to, well, almost be over, Tom and Derrick kick off The Summer Of Speed with one of the most popular car-nographic film series of the modern era, The Fast and The Furious! Join the Boys Outta Brooklyn as they rev up their engines and race though all five adventures with automobile-loving rogue Dominic Toretto and the worst cop in the world, Brian O’Conner…in addition to the Roger Corman produced car racing melodrama that inspired the series. All this plus listener mail, what we really want to see Michelle Rodriguez do, and the continuing debate over whether Eva Mendes is hot in her own right or a Raquel Welch wannabe! You don’t wanna granny clutch that hoss, so get to clicking!

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Mad Max


American International Pictures

Produced by Byron Kennedy and Bill Miller

Directed by George Miller

Written by George Miller, Byron Kennedy and James McCausland

In the “Lethal Weapon” movies Mel Gibson played  L.A. police detective Martin Riggs who undergoes such a severe psychological trauma when his wife is killed that the common held belief is that he’s gone straight flat out crazy.  Insane.  Mad, even.  That’s the main trait shared with an earlier Mel Gibson character: Australian highway cop Max Rockatansky who undergoes such a severe psychological trauma when his wife and son are killed that the common held belief is that he’s gone straight flat out crazy.  Insane.  Mad, even.  In fact, so mad that he’s called MAD MAX.

The movie is set in Australia of the near future after some sort of global disaster.  We’re never told in this movie what the disaster was but the two sequels to MAD MAX make it clear that the world superpowers finally threw down over dwindling oil resources.   Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) is a highway cop in The Outback.  Along with his partner Jim Goose (Steve Bisley) and the other members of the small band of cops known as The Main Force Patrol, they do their best to protect the public from marauding bands of motorcycle gangs that roam the highways, looting, raping, pillaging and just generally carrying on cranky.

The cops are so poorly funded that their headquarters, the ironically named Hall of Justice looks like a rotting pigsty with  only one half-crazed mechanic to keep their vehicles running.  The MFP has a hideously dangerous run-in with a psychotic called The Night Rider who steals one of their souped up Interceptors and leads them on a terrifying high speed pursuit that ends in several civilian and police cars wrecked, an officer severely injured and The Night Rider dead.

This starts Max to thinking that maybe it’s time for him to get out.  He’s got a wife (Joanne Samuel) and a baby boy he’d like to be around to grow old with.  The Goose conspires with their boss, Fifi Macaffie (Roger Ward) to get Max to stay by bribing him with a customized Ford Falcon with a supercharged V8 engine.  Max is Fifi’s best cop and if he loses Max then the MFP is going to be in real trouble as they’re barely holding their own against the vicious motorcycle gangs as it is.

The situation heats up when The Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne) the leader of the gang that The Night Rider was a member of decides to wage war on The MFP and takes a horrible revenge on Jim Goose, setting a trap for him and burning him alive while he’s trapped in a flipped over truck.  This decides it for Max.  He turns in his resignation, takes his wife and son and heads north, determined to find peace for them while he’s still able.  But Max is next on The Toecutter’s list of revenge.  And if he can’t have Max then he’ll settle for Max’s wife and son instead.

MAD MAX is a good example of what is meant by ‘grindhouse’.  It’s a straight-up B-budget action/adventure with no other purpose than to entertain.  I vividly remember seeing this on 42end Street back when it really was 42end Street and thinking even then it was pretty damn cool.  I watched it last night for about the 12th time and I still think it’s pretty damn cool.  Primarily because of the highly exciting action sequences.  George Miller knows how to film action.  And he knows how to film car chases.  Back in the 70’s audiences had become pretty jaded when it came to car chases because just about every action movie back then definitely had one, sometimes two and if they could figure out any way possible then dammit, they’d throw in three.  But George Miller really has a way of making car chases so energized that you don’t feel like you’ve seen these car chases before.

And even though I’ve got nothing against CGI, I dearly love action films of the 70’s and 80’s because you know that these are real guys in real cars doing these stunts.  When cars are slamming into eighteen-wheelers at 90 miles an hour or guys go flying through the air to land on concrete and roll for another 50 feet you feel it because you can see it’s an actual human being getting busted up and not a CGI.  It also gives an air of believability to the action because nobody is breaking the laws of physics here.  The fighting is sweaty, brutal and painful.  Especially in the scenes where Mad Max faces down The Toecutter and his protégé Johnny The Boy (Tim Burns) during which Max is shot and run over with a motorcycle.  Max doesn’t shrug off his wounds and get up to whoop ass.  He gets up, sure, but it takes time, it hurts like hell and even back then Mel Gibson was a good enough actor to sell the scene.

This being Mel Gibson’s first major starring role is probably the reason most will want to see a movie that’s almost 35 years old and even then you can see the easy charm as well as the grim intensity that would bring him international fame.  He’s as competent as you would imagine in the action sequences but he’s also amazingly gentle and warm in the scenes with Joanne Samuel who plays his wife.  They have a real chemistry together and it’s not hard to buy them as a young couple in love.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that Gibson blows the screen apart but he’s a helluva lot better in his first film than a lot of others I’ve seen.  Steve Bisley as Max’s partner Jim Goose is so full of life and so likeable that you wish he had more screen time.  He’s got one of those grins that you’ve seen before: he’s either just put one over on you or he’s about to.  Either way, you’re gonna let him because you just can’t resist that grin.  Roger Ward is one of my favorites in this movie.  Despite being named Fifi, he’s a towering slab of man, bald as a rock, always chewing on a cigar, wearing a flowing black scarf and telling his boys: “Do whatever you want out on the road as long as the paperwork’s straight!”

Hugh Keays-Byrne does something really remarkable with The Toecutter in that you really get the sense that this is a guy who actually tunes into the wavelength of a world we can’t see.  He leaves the stereotypical villain-type acting stuff to Tim Burns who plays Johnny The Boy as a cowardly bad guy.  Much more interesting and fun is Geoff Parry as The Toecutter’s enforcer, Bubba Zanetti.  He’s the main source of humor in the movie as he delivers some really goofy lines but in a sober, dead-pan manner that I found both utterly hilarious and totally chilling.  He was a character I wanted to know more about as compared to The Toecutter and Johnny The Boy he seems rational, calm and he gives The Toecutter advice that is perfectly sane.  I wanted to know how Bubba ended up with these guys but unless George Miller decides to do a prequel, my curiosity will continue.

MAD MAX was followed by two sequels: “The Road Warrior” and “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome” each of which I heartily recommend.  Both movies aren’t just rehashing the first movie.  They continue the story of Max Rockatansky, deepening his character and humanity even as the world slides further and further into barbarism.  Taken as a whole they’re not only classic action/adventure but also a forerunner of just about every adventure trilogy you see nowadays.  If you haven’t seen MAD MAX in a while, treat yourself.  And if you’ve never seen it, why don’t you?  Yeah, yeah, I know it’s not a 100 million buck summer blockbuster but the lack of a budget actually gives the movie a hard and gritty reality that a lot of today’s movies simply don’t have.  And it’s simply just a lot of fun to watch.  Enjoy.

93 minutes

Rated: R

The Fast And The Furious (1955)


American Releasing Corporation

Directed by John Ireland and Edward Sampson

Produced by Roger Corman

Written by Jean Howell and Jerome Odlum from a story by Roger Corman

Last year my Better In The Dark co-host Thomas Deja and I got the idea for a theme for the summer of 2012 which we called “The Summer of Speed”  The idea was to do episodes reviewing movies based around cars or where cars play a major role.  Naturally we immediately hit on doing an episode on the entire “Fast and Furious” series which you can find here .  I also saw this as an opportunity to do the same theme here at The Ferguson Theater and review movies I’ve been meaning to review for the longest but have been neglecting.  Movies such as “Speed Racer” “The Cannonball Run” “Smokey and The Bandit” and “Greased Lightning”. Now being anal as I am, I insisted to Tom that I wanted to start with the original THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS made in 1955.  He said I could go knock myself out and now I see why.  This movie does not follow The Ferguson Rule Of Truth In Movie Advertising in that it is neither Fast nor is it Furious.

Frank Webster (John Ireland) is a man on the run.  Doing time for a murder he didn’t commit, he manages to bust outta the hoosegow and take it on the lam.  The dragnet cast out for him is extensive and closing on him fast.  He needs a quick way out of his situation and finds it thanks to Connie Adair (Dorothy Malone) who is driving a Jaguar. While sitting in a roadside diner, Frank overhears Connie telling the waitress that she’s on her way to participate in a cross country race where the finish line is in Mexico.  Frank sees this as a perfect cover to get away.  Frank takes Connie hostage and they head for the race.

The bulk of the movie is taken up with Connie pleading for Frank to let her go even though there are numerous opportunities where she could get away but doesn’t take advantage of it.  And for a guy who’s trying not to arouse any suspicion,  Frank does a lot of suspicious things that cause many of the people he meets at the race to raise their eyebrows and ask Connie, “Hey, you sure this guy is okay?”

Turns out that the race officials have changed the rules so that women can’t participate in the race saying that they’ve deemed it “too dangerous for a woman.” So Frank has to put himself in the race so that he won’t raise any more eyebrows than he already has.  It’s during his qualifying run for the race where Frank and Connie start to bond a little.  He tells her what really happened to get him thrown in jail and she urges him to give himself up and even offers to help.  Frank quite naturally tells her to get stuffed.  Now somehow through all this back-and-forth, they manage to fall in love.  So much so that Frank jeopardizes his freedom to drive Connie’s car in what has to be the most boring car race I’ve seen on film.

Thankfully the movie is only 73 minutes long so if you do decide to watch it, it’s mercifully short.  Apparently the producers of the Vin Diesel remake bought the rights to the movie just because they wanted the title.  And I can understand that: it’s a good title.  One that is wasted on this movie.  It’s worth watching if you’re a Roger Corman fan and want to watch this because of his involvement in it but that’s about I can recommend it for.  I really didn’t care a poobah’s pizzle about anybody in this movie and while Dorothy Malone tries her best to inject some life into her scenes with John Ireland, he’s no help at all as his idea of acting is to just stand there and look constipated.  Their romance is entirely unconvincing and when I got to the end of the movie I howled, “That’s it?

THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS is available for streaming on Netflix and you can also see it the entire movie on YouTube which I’ve provided for you right here if you care to see it.  If you don’t want to, I quite understand.