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Movie Journal 7/27/2015

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"Methane cometh from pig shit." (Source)

“Methane cometh from pig shit.” (Source)

Monday, 7/20 – I decided to rewatch some of Home Alone 2: Lost in New York while working on my Inside Out review. When I was a kid, I liked this better than the first film, in part because being able to run around a big city on my own was more compelling than just being home by myself (I grew up in a small town. It makes sense.) But I saw both films many, many times and they, along with Who Framed Roger Rabbit, are among the icons of my childhood.

Looking at them now, I’d still say the second film is better; it’s a more accomplished piece of filmmaking in nearly every way, allowing the scenes to breathe, where the first film often felt rushed. The repeated gags feel a little hamfisted at times–and I much prefer the first act of the first one; Buzz’ obnoxious hypocrisy in is just tiresome, while in the first film he was just the quintessential obnoxious big brother. The sentimental moments in each are about even; Roberts Blossom’s Old Man Marley is probably a little more believable than Brenda Fricker’s Bird Woman, but she’s quite good.

While Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern are roughly as amusing here as they were in the first film, the supporting cast here is stronger, especially Tim Curry as the slimy concierge (‘Bingo.” *ding*). Neither film is objectively great, but I’d probably put them both in the lower **** range; I think I scored this 77/100 a while back, which seems fair.

I’d like to add: especially now, the song “Christmas Star” really gets to me. It’s a beautiful song and I definitely prefer it to “Somewhere in My Memory”.

Tuesday, 7/21 – While putting in job applications, I decided to pop in Black Dynamite. 

The best parts of this movie are fucking hysterical. The scene where Anaconda’s slogan is deciphered. The police chief’s monologue (and the line “Quiet, Mama. You’ll wake the rest of the bitches” right after it). The great lines sprinkled throughout (“I swear on the ghost of Abraham Lincoln I’m going to emancipate and proclamate on your ass!”). The loving period detail. The performance of Michael Jai White, who really embodies the nature of a blaxploitation hero.

I'll reuse this poster if and when I write about it at greater length. I really ought to. (Source)

I’ll reuse this poster if and when I write about it at greater length. I really ought to. (Source)

The high spots are such, in fact, that one can overlook how spotty it is. How often the film camps it up when playing it straight would’ve been funnier. The rambling plotting isn’t as big of a deal, but it doesn’t help (and that final speech has always felt off to me). It’s a great deal of fun, and probably I’d put it in the upper 70s or low 80s, but I wish I could bump it higher.

Wednesday, 7/23-Thursday, 7/24 – While working on my review of Aloha, I put on Road House. That says it all, right? I don’t even ironically enjoy this film–it’s just a great B-movie topped with 80s cheese. It may not be better than RoboCop, but it’s one of those movies I can watch time and again. It’s a masterpiece of a very specific kind, and I absolutely mean that.

The actor who played Jimmy later starred in a bad inspirational film. I wasn't fooled. He will always be Jimmy. (Source)

The actor who played Jimmy later starred in a bad inspirational film. I wasn’t fooled. He will always be Jimmy. (Source)

Saturday, 7/26-Sunday, 7/27 – I’ve tried to watch Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome several times, but had never gotten beyond about the halfway mark (around the time Max meets the tribe of children). I decided to finally get through the entire thing–since I’ve seen the other three films (and you know how I feel about Fury Road), I wanted to finally put a bow on the series.

George Miller wasn’t really invested in making this film; his friend and producer Byron Kennedy had died while location scouting (the film is dedicated to him), and he brought in George Ogilvie to handle the narrative sequences while he directed the action scenes. The result is easily the weakest entry in the series. It has a certain level of cult success because of its concepts and its soundtrack, but for a variety of reasons never catches fire.

Although the series has always been good at world-building, it has never been a source of great narratives (even Fury Road is quite simply plotted), and the story for Beyond Thunderdome is not too strong, nor is it told as simply and crisply as the other films tell their stories. Ogilvie’s staging is often vague, especially in the Bartertown scenes, which are fuzzy and dark (at least on the DVD I watched–one of the earliest releases in the Warner Bros. library); despite the impressive production design and clever ideas (“Pigshit”), the lack of real narrative excitement holds it back.

The first film dealt with Max fighting against the decay of society. The second with Max helping a band of survivors defeat a brutal warlord. Here, at least in the first half, Max is just a hired thug, helping Aunty to streamline the process of refining pig shit into methane by killing the hulking Blaster. The stakes just aren’t the same, and the excitement level is low. Even the famous Thunderdome sequence doesn’t really live up to its potential, and since after the Max-Blaster fight it’s not so much as mentioned again, it feels like a bit of a waste.

Do feel free to vote. (I made this myself.)

Do feel free to vote. (I made this myself.)

In the second half, when Max is taken by a tribe of teenagers and children (stranded after a plane crash) as their long-prophesied leader, and must lead them to safety when they ignore his warnings about the collapse of civilization, the storytelling becomes clearer–but not much more compelling. On the one hand, the tribal society is well thought-out, with their ritualistic recounting of their history and imaginative prophecies; on the other, one might rightly accuse (as many have) the concept of the tribe itself as being rather cutesy, and the defiance of those who leave (led by Savannah Nix (Helen Buday) as motivated by the plot, not the characters.

The final set-piece, involving a huge “train-truck” and a fleet of Aunty’s vehicles, is well-enough done, but compared to the climax of The Road Warrior, it just doesn’t have the same urgency. And it’s ultimately moot, because a deus ex machina arrives in the form of Jedediah (Bruce Spence), a Gyro Captain-esque pilot (introduced at the start when he steals Max’s camel-wagon) who conveys a number of the tribe to the ruins of Sydney, where they establish a new society. Max is spared by Aunty, because he’s the protagonist, and resumes his nomadic existence.

The two halves almost feel like two separate films joined together, which doesn’t help; the absurdity of Bartertown and the mythic nature of the tribe seem to come from totally different worlds, and the dissonance hampers the film further.

While the series has always been outlandish, Beyond Thunderdome too often tips over into goofiness, and as result is never truly exciting. It’s certainly watchable, even enjoyable on a camp level, but it’s the lightest and least of the series. There are redeeming factors: the production design, Dean Semler’s cinematography, and scattered good lines in the script (Savannah’s final monologue is quite good); these, however, are not enough to make a great film, whatever Ebert may have said.

Mel Gibson is fine as a slightly more comic Max (though I much prefer Tom Hardy’s take on the role), and Tina Turner is properly tough and lively as Aunty (while not really having enough to do, especially in the second half). She provided a pair of songs, including the famous “We Don’t Need Another Hero”; I will leave analysis of them to the more musically literate. Veteran actor Angelo Rossitto is quite charming as the scheming Master, and his devotion to Blaster, who is revealed to have the mental capacity of a child, is by the far the most emotionally satisfying component of the film. Another veteran, Frank Thring, is dryly amusing as the Collector, Aunty’s right-hand man.

Watching Beyond Thunderdome, it’s easy to see how it influenced Fury Road; the Citadel in that film is almost a distillation of Bartertown, and there are shots in the climax which are virtually identical to shots in the later film (substitute Furiosa’s War Rig for the train-truck and you’ll see what I mean). But it’s also easy to see how, with more time, more money, and more spirit, Miller was able to craft a much better film.

Score: 68/100

Sunday, 7/27 – I saw The Tribe today; more on that in my separate review.

I was going to watch The Road Warrior while I wrote the aforementioned review, but shit happened. Maybe next week.

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