Hail to thee, Captain of our TV’s and our hearts.
Mad Max: Fury Road makes Beyond Thunderdome look like a sad cartoon and Mad Max look like a student film. It’s a visual assault on your cerebral cortex, filled to the brim with unparalleled stunts, physical effects and house of horror make-up and prosthetics. And though you’re free to decide if you’re watching a total reboot of the Mad Max franchise, or simply the fourth film in the series with a new actor as Max, Fury Road is – at its core – a remake of George Miller’s 1982 action classic The Road Warrior.
Normally, this could cause someone of my age to dismiss it out of hand as inferior. But the re-maker is the original creator – Australian action auteur George Miller (Mad Max, Babe, Happy Feet). And though this means attention MUST be paid, it also means the comparison of this film to Road Warrior is not only fair, but required.
Before we put these two movies side by side, let’s look at Fury Road in more detail. Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy, Batman’s Bane) is an ex-cop, tortured by the death of his wife and daughter as a global conflict over oil led to nuclear destruction, the collapse of civilized society and the end of morality and law enforcement. If Fury Road is the fourth Mad Max movie, the fledgling seeds of civilization seen in Beyond Thunderdome have withered and died. Max’s world is nothing but a series of brutal warlords, each of whom control their fiefdoms by controlling a vital resource (gasoline, bullets, and water).
The basic plot – as it is – is about a giant car chase caused by a gasoline delivery gone awry. Cars go fast, people get killed, and the good guys(?) win. But there is WAY more going on in Fury Road than the simple backbone of the plot.
Before we get to any further deep dissection, let’s pick out what really works in Fury Road.
Oscar-winner Charlize Theron is pretty impressive as Imperator Furiosa, a trusted sub-warlord of Overlord Immortan Joe, who is tasked with driving the War-Rig tanker to and from Gastown. She’s fierce, stringently asexual and the actual lead of this film. More on that later. Supermodel Rosie Huntington-Whiteley is so luminous and good as The Splendid Angharad, the most pregnant of Immortan Joe’s cabal of wives, that we have totally forgiven her for Transformers 3.
Hugh Keays-Byrne is a hoot as the evil, but oddly spiritual, big bad Immortan Joe. Wearing his toothy-masked breather for most of the film, he makes a hell of an impression by simply emoting with his eyes. Also, Keays-Byrne is the only credited member of the cast to have appeared in 1979’s Mad Max, as main villain Toecutter. Nicholas Hoult (X-Men First Class, Warm Bodies, the guy who was supposed to be the only recipient of those pictures of J-Law) is really effective as super-creepy Warboy Nux. One of Joe’s phalanx of ghostly-white, bald, sociopathic “warboy” drones, Nux changes sides a lot, before finally picking the side of the angels – specifically Capable, another of Joe’s wives. This flame-haired, tough little trophy wife is played by Riley Keough (Elvis’ granddaughter, daughter of Lisa-Marie).
As mentioned earlier, the film is a visual stunner, with the scale and the daring of the physical stunts on moving vehicles literally making you gasp again and again. The physical design of the film – much due to the work of Brendan McCarthy, former comic book artist for Judge Dredd, DC, Eclipse and Marvel – is astonishing and wildly original, though still faithful to the spirit of the imagery of Road Warrior and Thunderdome. Colors are explosive, with red, blue and white used to offset the endless bleak desert where the film takes place.
Now… sadly, let’s explore where Mr. Miller goes wrong with his own creation.
Tom Hardy is a fierce force of nature for an actor. His roles are marked by powerful physicality, guys full of rage, and, to me, he smells “Method” to the bone. I’ve taken to calling him the “alpha-male Daniel Day-Lewis” for his range, and his pouty lips. On paper, the idea of Hardy playing Mad Max is a pretty sexy one. Unless the paper in question is the script for Mad Max: Fury Road.
While the level of controversy that Max’s “role” in his own film has generated, let’s point out a few facts from the film:
- Yes, Max is subordinate to Furiosa, in terms of driving the overall plot, total screen time and clarity of character motivation as depicted on-screen.
- Yes, Max starts this film as a prisoner, and – save for a vertigo-inducing foot chase – is kept out of action for the first half-hour of the movie.
- No, my masculinity was not threatened or lessened by the plot of an action movie. But I just don’t know if a passive Max for that length of time was a smart idea.
- Once Max is freed from bondage, he does lots of Mad Max style things. He “drives” the action of the giant car chase as much as he did in any earlier chapter of the series.
- Max’s emotional state – as near total madness as we’ve ever seen and devoid of hope for the world – is a tougher slog for an actor to present than the straight-ahead rage of revenge Furiosa gets to show us.
- No, Max doesn’t get the bad guy. Furiosa does.
Again, in a general sense, this is not emasculative, but it does lead us to what is really groundbreaking about the film, even if it does cost the movie some points for making Max less of a driving force than he should be. With all apologies to Zack Snyder, and his redoubtable Sucker Punch, Fury Road may be the first honest-to-goddess mass-budget Feminist action film of the 21st Century.
Theron’s Furiosa is the full-scale protagonist, the hero who takes the action of freeing Immortan Joe’s five sex-slave, child breeding wives. (All five are supermodel gorgeous, so maybe Zack Snyder was on the right track before.) Her force of will sets the film in motion, even though it is Max who makes a critical decision in the third act to set the film toward its conclusion. However, Furiosa and a group of women have to decide and agree that Max’s path is right choice. This is a lot to ask a studio to finance, and all credit to Warner Brothers and Village Roadshow for putting up the green.
So, we’ve covered the crazy and the groundbreaking. Where’s the uneven?
Apparently, you can’t ask an audience to go full speed for two hours. Maybe that’s not a miscalculation, but when Fury Road stops… wow, it stops COLD! Most egregious is the budding romance that develops on the road between Nux and Capable. Yes, there has to be something emotional at play when one of these characters makes a big sacrifice late in the film, but everything that goes into their little love story seems interminable on screen.
And after the first giant fight scene that sets the tone for Max and Furiosa’s relationship, every other time the War-Rig stops, so does the whole picture.
Still, despite the unevenness of the structure and the mild mishandling of Max, I recommend you see Mad Max: Fury Road. Giant out-of-the-box film-making is always rewarding, even if the result isn’t perfect.
And, if this is a remake of The Road Warrior, then my opinion is that:
- Bigger isn’t always better.
- Bruce Spence flying is a thing of beauty.
- It’s better when Max is the main character.
- And, though we kind of want him to go away nowadays, Mel Gibson was a hell of thing once, huh?
By 1978, Indiana-born ex-TV weatherman David Letterman had moved to Hollywood, become a favorite at The Comedy Store, appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, and tapped to be a semi-regular guest host of that show on some of Johnny’s many nights off.
If you never saw Letterman in this era, you missed his particular approach to stand-up comedy. As my old, dear friend Dr. Bill once said, as we debated the stand-up comedy of our teenage years, “How can you like Letterman? The whole act is just sarcasm.”
Yep. Bitter as day-old cold coffee, David Letterman’s stand-up act was – in a nutshell – “What is wrong with you people!?!” He did not tell jokes, really. He made cranky observations about the inanity of contemporary life – observations which compelled you to laugh at, possibly, your own stupidity. One of my favorite of his bits, later turned into a full stage piece with Chris Elliott in the earliest days of Late Night With David Letterman, was his observation about the newly-improved taste of Alpo Dog Food.
“How do they know?!?”
As a 60’s-born child of the vidicon tube, Johnny Carson was one of my first idols. I worshiped at his altar from as far back as I can remember, and all the way up to May of 1992, when he left us. But when Letterman showed up, whether it was on Mike Douglas, The Mary Show (with Michael Keaton), The Starland Vocal Band Show (with Jeff Altman and Phil Procter), or a slew of game shows, I had to watch. His easy exasperation, intolerance of tomfoolery and love of the non-sequitur just totally spoke to me. He was a smart-ass, maybe the smartest one I’d ever seen.
In 1980, someone at NBC lost their minds, and for 90 glorious live shows, Letterman hosted a morning talk show following Today. First running ninety minutes (?!?!), and then trimmed to an hour, The David Letterman Show was daily, snarky anarchy. Featuring Edwin Newman as the on-set newsman, a band, games and prizes (“Winky’s Cow Paste“), and it was a joy to behold. It was also the reason I bought my first VCR in 1980, with money from my first real job, to see it every morning… after I woke up. Just last week, Steve Martin reminisced with Dave on-air about his first appearance on the show, in late September 1980. A still-store frame showed Steve in bed for that interview, as he complained of the early hour. I wasn’t alone, see? And, if memory serves, on the last show, a small fire broke out on set. Letterman’s response was something like, “That’s about right.”
NBC held David under contract after that show ended, and in February 1982, Late Night With David Letterman appeared, following Carson each night. And, with breaks only for switching networks, having bypass surgery, and the shingles, he has been on late-night TV for thirty-three years straight. Longer than Carson’s thirty-year tenure, he is now the truest – and possibly final? – King of Late Night.
Certainly, the world has not stood still for these thirty-three years. A new comedic generation, or possibly two, have come to us since. But he is a massive influence on those who have followed, and not just on talk shows. Former Letterman writers and producers have created, or been involved in the process of creating material for shows like Ed, How I Met Your Mother, Get A Life, Everybody Loves Raymond, The Last Man On Earth, Monk, The Simpsons and Seinfeld – among countless others. Everyone from Tina Fey to Jon Stewart to Conan O’Brien to Stephen Colbert acknowledge Letterman and his show’s influence on them.
But in less than two weeks, he will be gone. And the cold reality of that has only now begun to hit me. And I mean literally cold. Bumps rise on my arms and hairs stand up, as I begin to experience preemptive withdrawal. I am anxious. The void to be left will be immeasurable, unfillable.
I enjoy what Kimmel and Fallon do. Stewart’s show is a lesser icon, but he is also soon to be gone. It is the end of an age.
Yes, Letterman’s humor is different than the late-night pioneers that preceded him. But he is of an age to have seen, have known and have had on his show the founding fathers. Steve Allen, Jack Paar. Johnny Carson and even Dick Cavett – for the intellectuals – influenced David. When he goes, that age ends. And though Leno’s show did not really look back at these men in the same way Dave did, Jay’s already gone. Sixty years of “that kind” of talk show, even though Dave’s greatest gift to us and his descendents was to savagely deconstruct most of the rules of those shows, are finally and fully over.
I’ve never felt as old as I do now.
I’ve never had as much affection for David Letterman as I do now, despite being lucky enough to be in his studio audience twice in twenty-five years.
And though I do love so much of the modern comedy – Schumer, C.K., Tina, Apatow, Key & Peele, etc. – I suddenly hear a variation on the words of my old friend Dr. Bill.
“They’re not like Letterman. They’ll never be sarcastic enough.”
Hang on to your wigs and keys, kids. The next two weeks will fly by.
So, Maroon 5 dropped a new single today.
Allow me to present the greatest trailer for a TV pilot in the history of the medium.
Ladies, Gentlemen, Fangirls and Fanboys…..
Behold The Majesty of DC’s Legends Of Tomorrow!!!
I cannot speak.
Let us prey this thing can maintain its own weight, the weekly expense with which this pilot teases us, and, as a old, old nerd I will add….
Thank you Greg Berlanti!!
Currently unscheduled, DC’s Legends Of Tomorrow arrives in 2016.