The Weird, Western, Apocalyptic Fairy Tale of “The Road Warrior”

When writer and director George Miller returned to the apocalyptic world of Max Rockatansky with 1982’s The Road Warrior, he came back with a vengeance. Compared to the microbudgeted Australian car cataclysm of the 1979 original, The Road Warrior is an apocalyptic epic that somehow feels simultaneously massive and microscopic. And while both the original and the sequel share a frantic, raw sensibility, Miller injects The Road Warrior with a dizzying array of themes that propel it to the next level.

It’s this strange blend of post-apocalyptic survival, Western frontier gunslinging, and fairy tale adventure that make The Road Warrior into something that could never quite be copied by its myriad imitators. And while that may seem like an odd mix of genres, Miller wisely filters it through a hardened and chaotic world where seemingly anything can happen.

Here, Miller catches up with former cop Max (Mel Gibson), who has abandoned humanity after the death of his wife and young boy at the hands of the villainous Toecutter and Max’s subsequent rampage of revenge. But unlike the broken civilization of the original, the world of The Road Warrior is a wasteland. Barren outback stretches as far as the eye can see. Pockets of humanity are divided into survivors, gangs, and lone scavengers. Fuel is the most precious and scarce commodity, with retrofitted vehicles now the dominant means of survival and war. And within this wasteland is an oil refinery controlled by a band of survivors who are besieged by a brutal roving gang led by the massive Lord Humongous.

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“Mad Max” – Exploitation With Style and Heart

mad-max-1979-movie-reviewIn the late 1970s, George Miller was a young Australian emergency room doctor with big screen dreams. Inspired by the countless horrific car wrecks that brought in numerous patients to his hospital and the effects of the 1973 oil crisis on Australia, Miller had a dream of a vibrant and kinetic film that captured the madness and anarchy that he saw. Paired with friend and fellow amateur filmmaker Byron Kennedy, Miller would spend several years gathering up financing (including earning cash himself by taking emergency medical calls with Kennedy) for the film that would become 1979’s Mad Max.

With a meager budget of between $350,000 and $400,000, Miller’s vision of Mad Max would come to life as a scrappy, wild exploitation film thanks to the any-means-necessary attitude of the tiny team making the movie. Set “a few years from now” according to the text intro, Mad Max takes place in a future where law and order is rapidly breaking down, with a crumbling Australian society protected by the few unhinged highway officers of the Main Force Patrol. Following a wild chase that sees an outlaw known as The Nightrider killed, Officer Max Rockatansky and his fellow cops are targeted by the criminal Toecutter and his ruthless gang. The chaos that follows threatens to engulf the body and soul of Max.

Mad Max’s narrative is weirdly paced, consistently shifting in focus, and full of strange detours. That is to say, it’s a typical exploitation film of the time. It means that the film is inherently uneven and may feel strange to fans who have come to the franchise due to any of its other entries. By nature of being low budget, the world of the original Mad Max doesn’t feel as unique as the one presented in the other films. It’s 1970s rural Australia, just with extra chaos thrown in to show how society is falling apart. In addition, the film has a heavy focus on Max’s MFP partner Jim Goose (Steve Bisley) in its first half, who is heavily affected by the chaos of the world and whose eventual death causes Max to quit being an officer. Yet the film really comes to life in its brutal, low budget/high risk action sequences, which show a style and energy that little of the rest of the film can match. Mad Max may have been seen as high voltage insanity back in 1979, but the escalation of its sequels and the film world in general makes it seem like a quaint character piece in comparison today. However, it still largely works, with Max’s happy family life juxtaposed against the world’s chaotic violence in order to give greater emotional heft to the story at hand.

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Greatest Batman Stories: “Over the Edge”

The final days of Batman have captured the imaginations of writers and audiences alike for decades, with comic books like The Dark Knight Returns and films like The Dark Knight Rises exploring the idea in a variety of ways. But one of its darkest and most grimly exhilarating interpretations was brought to life by Batman: The Animated Series in the 1998 episode “Over the Edge,” which follows a destructive war between Batman and Commissioner Gordon, former allies turned deadly enemies in the wake of Batgirl’s death.

B:TAS is a nearly never-ending source for fantastic Batman stories, ranging from thrilling one-of-a-kind adventures to character-redefining origins. In “Over the Edge,” written by Paul Dini, who is responsible for many of the greatest B:TAS episodes, audiences are given a glimpse into what the ultimate end of The Dark Knight could be, should a life of crime fighting take its darkest turn. While some “what if” tales of Batman’s end find the hero sacrificing it all to stop a legion of villains and others detail an aged Dark Knight finding peace after a life of crime fighting, “Over the Edge” is all about sudden and terrible tragedy abruptly destroying the life of Batman and his allies in their prime. It’s far different from the type of story that has been revisited again and again in various mediums and is all the better for it.

Kickstarting in media res with Police Commissioner Jim Gordon (Bob Hastings) and a legion of officers inside the Batcave and in pursuit of Batman (Kevin Conroy), who he knows to be Bruce Wayne, viewers are thrown into a chaotic and vastly changed world from the outset. Brilliantly, this delirious beginning throws first-time viewers for a loop, making them question what is happening and solidifying the high stakes endgame nature of the story. At first, viewers feel like this couldn’t be possible, but “Over the Edge” stays committed to the story, which forces viewers to buy into what is happening.

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Cancelled Comic Book Movies Collage

13 Cancelled Comic Book Movies

Comic book films are filling cinema screens more than ever due to the worldwide popularity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the burgeoning DC Extended Universe, and the continual adaptations of comic book stories from across the decades. But like any film production, there are many false starts, botched projects, and broken dreams along the way.

As the decades of comic book adaptations have rolled on, more and more films have failed to launch due to myriad reasons. From the early days of superhero movies to the fallow ‘90s to the uneven boom of the modern era, there are dozens of comic book properties that have nearly come to fruition on the big screen. The following 15 films are comic book film adaptations that nearly happened, but were axed due to varying causes. While this is by no means an exhaustive list, the following movies provide some of the most interesting “almosts” in comic book cinema. And for brevities sake, we are leaving out comic books that were optioned by movie studios, but never made it past early planning stages.

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Suicide Squad Animated

Suicide Squad Done Right – “Assault on Arkham” and “Task Force X”

Writer/director David Ayer’s Suicide Squad has introduced one of the great DC Comics teams to the mainstream and to the DC Extended Universe. But this isn’t the first time The Suicide Squad, aka Task Force X, has been featured outside of their comic book incarnations. Not only that, but two previous stories, one an animated feature film and the other an episode of an animated television series, feature superior storytelling and stronger takes on the iconic characters that make up their stories than the new live action film.

These are the 2014 direct-to-video Batman: Assault on Arkham and an episode of the 2004 animated series Justice League Unlimited titled “Task Force X.” For both old and new fans of The Suicide Squad, these interpretations present something bold and exciting. Not only that, but they are vastly different from one another as well as from Ayer’s movie, while still retaining the thrilling core ideas of the team that have captured the attentions of fans since the ’80s comic book series created and spearheaded by writer John Ostrander.

While The Suicide Squad was featured on season two of the CW live action television series Arrow, Warner Bros. studio interference cut the storyline short, causing The Suicide Squad to only appear in three episodes before the series was forbidden to feature them again. While no official word was ever given, most rumors suggest the studio did not want a television version of the team to interfere with the DCEU cinematic version. As such, the Arrow Suicide Squad is frustratingly truncated and far from satisfying, despite its potential.

But through Assault on Arkham and “Task Force X,” vibrant and unique takes on the squad are ready to make new fans of this classic DC team.

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“Suicide Squad” Spoiler-Free Review

A Disastrous Plot That Great Characters Can’t Save

suicide-squad-movie-posterThere’s something clearly wrong with DC Comics’ and writer/director David Ayer’s Suicide Squad from the very first scene. Introducing two of its main characters, Deadshot (Will Smith) and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) in prison to establish them as leads without real context, only to suddenly flip to government agent Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), who spouts out background information on the world of the film, yet is abruptly cut off by the film’s title sequence, only to once again monologue about her plans to two fellow agents, including reintroducing the two characters who were just introduced. And it’s all in the first five minutes. It’s a weird, off-putting, poorly edited, directionless beginning to Suicide Squad and it works as a distillation of the film as a whole. A film whose dreadful sense of pacing, lack of narrative, and eye roll-inducing posturing is only somewhat redeemed by a cast of vibrant characters.

With a stronger story and a narrative cohesion that is not clearly compromised by dubious studio interference and reshoots that chop up both tone and story until they are wrecked, Suicide Squad could have done its characters justice.

Based on the long-running Suicide Squad comic book, which was revamped for the modern era by writer John Ostrander, the latest film in the DC Extended Universe centers on Task Force X – a government program that enlists imprisoned supervillains into doing incredibly dangerous missions. Their reward is reduced prison sentences and their coercion is a bomb placed in their necks that will explode if they get out of line. It’s a longstanding and well-loved cornerstone of the DC Comics Universe that has resulted in many fantastic stories, fleshed out characterizations for dozens of villains, and a welcome break from the typical do-gooder hero stories.

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“Stranger Things” Season 1 Review

Riveting Characters Meet Nostalgic ‘80s Mysteries

stranger-things-netflix-posterNostalgia for the ‘80s and its best loved stories has been running high in the last few years. From reappraisals of movies from the decade to both modern music and filmmaking that emulate the style of the decade, modern pop culture is in the midst of a love affair with the decade.

Into this atmosphere arrives Netflix’s Stranger Things, an eight-episode television series created by The Duffer Brothers that is not only set in the ‘80s, but takes narrative, character, and reference cues from the decade’s fondly remembered films. A hypnotic synth score recalls the works of John Carpenter while the central quest into the unknown is both scary and charming in a way that was often best captured by films of the ‘80s. But while the pure surge of nostalgia may be the initial draw for many fans, what Stranger Things does even better than lovingly transpose the techniques of the ‘80s is to tell a story that is so good that it does not need its nostalgic elements in order to succeed.

Set in the small town of Hawkins, Indiana, in 1983, the disappearance of a young boy named Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) sets off a chain of events that see the boy’s mother, Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder), his brother Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), Police Chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour), the boy’s friends Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), and Mike’s sister Nancy (Natalia Dyer), search for answers. Their quests lead them to the discovery of a monster from another dimension, a shady government agency, and a mysterious young girl named Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) who possesses psychokinetic abilities. Like a blend between Steven Spielberg and Stephen King, Stranger Things balances a sense of wonder with a sense of terror while anchoring its many mysteries in fantastic characters.

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“Star Trek Beyond” Review

A Fun and Welcomed Return to Classic Trek

star-trek-beyond-posterIt’s clear from literally the opening moments of Star Trek Beyond that the latest entry in the Gene Roddenberry-created science fiction series is meant to be a hard course correct for this reboot movie franchise. With the signature opening notes of the classic theme playing over the blackness of space followed by an in media res intergalactic peace keeping adventure and a stardate monologue by Captain James Kirk, the intentions are made clear from the very beginning: this is classic Star Trek made for the modern era. But are these intentions executed well enough to make Star Trek Beyond and the current incarnation of the series relevant?

Written by Simon Pegg (who also plays Enterprise crewmember Scotty) and Doug Jung and directed by Justin Lin of Fast and Furious fame, Star Trek Beyond picks up with the crew of the USS Enterprise nearly three years into their five year mission to explore outer space. Tired from the toll of never-ending space travel and with various issues plaguing them, Captain Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto), and more members of the crew weigh their options concerning leaving the Enterprise for new opportunities. However, a distress signal sends them to an unknown planet, where they are ambushed by the dangerous and mysterious Krall (Idris Elba), who destroys the Enterprise and strands them on the planet for his own deadly mission. With the crew separated and fighting for survival, our heroes must come together to stop greater destruction from happening.

While 2009’s J.J. Abrams-directed Star Trek rebooted the dormant franchise for the modern era with a slam-bang escapist sci-fi adventure story that balanced pitch-perfect character reinvisionings with massive action, the reboot Star Trek series was quickly put on shaky ground with 2013’s dreadful Star Trek Into Darkness. It was a movie that attempted to tell a relevant story about terrorism and government extremism while remaking the classic Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. But for many reasons, most specifically being sloppy writing and a story that couldn’t live up to the original, Into Darkness failed at every turn, causing the franchise to stall early into its run.

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“Green Room” Review

A Gut-Wrenching and Spectacular Thrill Ride

green-room-saulnierFollowing up his 2013 revenge feature Blue Ruin, writer and director Jeremy Saulnier explores another tale of ordinary people caught in a maelstrom of violence with the thriller Green Room. Here, a broke and hungry punk band known as The Ain’t Rights land at a neo-Nazi skinhead bar in the Oregon woods after getting word that it will pay them the meager money that they need. But the situation quickly goes south when they stumble upon the aftermath of a murder and hole up inside the bar’s tiny green room as neo-Nazi forces descend upon them. The results are fraught with danger and unrelenting tension that is repeatedly punctuated by shocking violence.

If that seems like a lean plot, that’s because it is. Saulnier is intent on telling a very focused, very stripped down story that wrings every ounce of tension from its central conflict. In fact, Green Room rarely strays from its claustrophobic dressing room and when it does, the scope does not get much larger than the surrounding bar. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, and the threat of horrific danger lurking so close at hand that the shabby, Confederate flag-festooned green room begins to seem like a sanctuary amidst the violence, even when the protection it provides is illusory at best.

Much like Blue Ruin, Saulnier is fixated on the realistic and terrifying consequences of violence. There’s not a moment of glamour or fun to be gleaned from the violent actions that are both committed by and to the band of survivors that lead the film, even though Saulnier’s use of lighting and color make this an impeccably shot movie. But that’s not to say that Green Room is simply a film meant to punish its viewers and chastise them for watching a film that revolves around violence. Rather, Saulnier works to create a far more human dynamic within every frame of his film while also indulging in the genre trappings that inform the action of the story.

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How Jason Bourne Redefined the Modern Action Hero

The term “action hero” has come to mean many different things over the decades in cinema. Depending on the decade you grew up in, it may conjure images of a muscle-bound Arnold Schwarzenegger hefting a massive machine gun. Or maybe it’s Spider-Man, rescuing civilians from a garishly-colored supervillain. It could be James Bond, dry martini in one hand and Walther PPK in the other. But as trends change, worldviews shift, and new ideas of what a hero is arise, the idea of an action hero is altered to fit new parameters, morals, and responsibilities.

And no character has had quite as unique of an impact on the idea of an action hero in recent years as Jason Bourne, the enigmatic government operative whose amnesia gives him a new purpose and a fresh start in life, if only he could escape from the government agency hounding him at every step.

While the character had existed since author Robert Ludlum’s novel The Bourne Identity in 1980, he didn’t come into the mainstream consciousness until the 2002 film adaptation of the same name starring Matt Damon as the titular character and directed by Doug Liman. As such, the reverberations caused by the hero can be more clearly felt in the modern action movie, whose timing in a freshly post-9/11 world is a fortuitous as it is tragic. While the character of Jason Bourne can also be seen as having an impact in spy novels (the series now has 12 books, carrying on long after the death of Ludlum through the writings of Eric Van Lustbader), the Bourne films have a reach that the novels have never quite had while also being vastly different from the source material.

With the series launching thanks to the success of The Bourne Identity, this modern spy franchise continued to grow and evolve through the follow-ups The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum. Maybe not The Bourne Legacy so much. This Flowers for Algernon meets Mission: Impossible spinoff of the franchise was a misfire that has little to do with the character of Bourne and is largely responsible for Matt Damon’s return to the franchise in 2016’s Jason Bourne.

But the character of Bourne, his world, and the themes that pervade this trilogy of movies are largely responsible for a major shift in the action film genre and the path that it has taken in the last decade and a half.

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