TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE (1983)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 41 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

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Directed by: John Landis, Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante & George Miller

Written by: John Landis, George Clayton Johnson, Richard Matheson, Melissa Mathison & Jerome Bixby

Starring: Albert Brooks, Dan Aykroyd, Vic Morrow, Doug McGrath, Charles Hallahan, Scatman Crothers, Bill Quinn, Martin Gamer, Selma Diamond, Helen Shaw, Kathleen Quinlan, Jeremy Licht, Kevin McCarthy & John Lithgow

From 1959 until 1964, Rod Serling made a splash on the small screen with a hugely influential and acclaimed anthology series called THE TWILIGHT ZONE. The episodes could range from scary to heartfelt and almost always had an otherworldly edge around them. During the early 80’s, four influential directors became attached to a big screen adaptation of Serling’s small screen series. Drawing inspiration from original episodes and turning them into four distinct segments of this movie, each director delivers their signature style in a TWILIGHT ZONE story of their own. What results is a sometimes mixed bag, but mostly quality horror/sci-fi anthology. Now, onto the stories themselves…

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PROLOGUE: This opening segment (running at just under 10 minutes) follows two men driving along a desolated road. When the radio breaks, the pair entertain themselves through casual conversation and little road games, but this all takes a dark turn when one man asks the other if he wants to see something “really scary.” This opening runs a bit too long as it’s just one big set-up for a jump scare that is tame by today’s standards. This brief prologue is not particularly great, but still has its charming qualities. B-

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TIME OUT: Bill Connor is an ill-tempered bigot. After getting drunk at a bar and going on a verbal insult spree against black people, Asians, and Jews, Bill finds himself stuck in a shifting timeline of hatred as he runs for his life from Nazis, American soldiers in Vietnam, and the KKK. This segment gave the film notoriety after a fatal on-stage accident claimed the lives of Vic Morrow and two illegally hired child actors. That tragedy and legal trial overshadow what is a fairly good story with a grim moral message. In spite of never actually completing this segment (which originally had a far more uplifting ending), the continuity blends together well. It’s a dark segment with great acting from Vic Morrow as a hate-filled man forced to sympathize with those he despises. Good moral, good ending, but a horrible on-stage accident casts a shadow over the whole film. A-

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KICK THE CAN: It’s pretty easy to identify the worst story in TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE. Ironically enough, it comes from the biggest name out of the four directors. Steven Spielberg strays from the dark and eerie tone of the rest of the anthology to tell a charming/cheesy story about old folks in a retirement home recovering their youth in a magical game of Kick the Can. This segment starts off well enough, but quickly devolves into an overly sappy, melodramatic mess. Besides the story going far too over-the-top and not tonally blending in with the rest of the film, the child actors are really bad. It seems that Spielberg had the kids try to imitate elderly people as opposed to just being kids and it doesn’t work at all. C-

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IT’S A GOOD LIFE: Based on one of the TWILIGHT ZONE’s best episodes, this story follows a schoolteacher who befriends a young child named Anthony. After she driving Anthony to his home, it becomes quickly clear that his living situation is abnormal to say the least. The teacher quickly learns the frightening truth that the saying “If you can dream it, you can do it” takes on a whole new meaning when it comes to Anthony. This second best installment of the bunch manages to nail down the right balance of over-the-top and scary. It starts off a little slow, but quickly gains momentum with impressive visuals and a crazy storyline. Honestly, I think director Joe Dante would have been right at home doing a whole TWILIGHT ZONE anthology all by himself, but then we wouldn’t have this film’s closing segment (more on that in a moment). A

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NIGHTMARE AT 20,000 FEET: Talk about going out on a high (no pun intended), NIGHTMARE AT 20,000 FEET is an adaptation that’s actually better than the iconic episode that inspired it. A nervous passenger on an airplane is flying through a turbulent storm. He’s scared out of his wits, but tries to maintain a positive attitude that the plane will land in once piece…that is, until he sees something on the wing of the plane. This story truly is the best this film has to offer. Directed by George Miller (the same man who brought us the MAD MAX series), NIGHMARE AT 20,000 FEET literally feels like a nightmare put onto the screen. To merely call this story intense or creepy would be doing a disservice to the material. Aided by John Lithgow’s stellar performance, Miller manages to capture a sense of claustrophobic chaos that will have you on the edge of your seat through the whole story. Also, there’s a nice call-back to an early segment that will at least get a chuckle out of you (if not a shiver down your spine as well). A+

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TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE is, like most anthologies, a bit of a mixed bag. There’s only one really disappointing story (ironically enough, it happens to be from the most accomplished director attached to this project), a decent prologue, and three tales that measure up to varying degrees of greatness. This film is worth seeing if only for the last two segments. Overall, TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE is an anthology film that’s well worth seeking out.

Grade: B+

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours

MPAA Rating: R for Intense Sequences of Violence throughout, and for Disturbing Images

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Directed by: George Miller

Written by: George Miller, Brendan McCarthy & Nico Lathouris

Starring: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough, Zoe Kravitz & Abbey Lee

In 1980, a crazy little Australian revenge-thriller called MAD MAX made it to American shores as a midnight movie. It gained a fast cult following and spawned a sequel titled THE ROAD WARRIOR. The second entry upped the ante on every possible level and become one of the best action films in the history of cinema. Then studio interference screwed up the third entry (BEYOND THUNDERDOME) which had a solid first half and then devolved into a family friendly Peter Pan-esque mess by the end. About thirty years have passed and creator George Miller has finally brought his fourth MAD MAX movie to the screen. With 150 million backing it, this is the most expensive MAD MAX yet and every single dollar is on the screen. In FURY ROAD, George Miller has demonstrated that he has more imagination and kick-ass action in his little finger than a majority of young whippersnappers working these days. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD is amazing!

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Functioning as both a reboot and a sequel, we find Max (former cop turned vigilante loner) as a shell of his once-human self. He relies purely on his instinct of survival, but even that isn’t enough to protect him from a violent cult-like community (called the Citadel) who capture him as a slave. When Furiosa (a female warrior) betrays Immortan Joe (the self-proclaimed religious leader of the Citadel) by rescuing a group of brides (kept as his breeders), Max is strapped to the front of a car as a would-be hood ornament/blood donor to one of Joe’s pale-skinned soldiers sent out to capture Furiosa. A sand storm hits and Max escapes from his predicament, only to join Furiousa and her group of escapees. If any of them have a hope of escaping Joe’s clutches, they must fight or die.

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With nearly three decades, it’s clear that George Miller had plenty of time to plan his return to stellar post-apocalyptic form. Every vehicle, character, and set piece is well thought out and elaborately constructed. Miller introduces everything in a way that doesn’t completely spell out anything for the audience, but let’s them see a system in action and learn from it (e.g. the warrior’s suicide rituals, a massive pulley system, and the use of humans as living blood bags). Miller clearly wasn’t worried about going too off the rails in his demented creativity, because this movie starts off insane and only gets crazier from that point forward. Kudos to a man who can pull off a lunatic wielding a flamethrower guitar and making it totally fit within the confines of the movie. Also, the landscapes may be sparse (aside from the canyon city that is the Citadel), but they look stunning. I especially liked how the night scenes appeared in pure blue lighting.

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Tom Hardy serves as a more-than-worthy replacement in Mel Gibson’s shoes as Max. It doesn’t seem like a single characteristic has changed despite a different face in the role. He’s a survivor who isn’t afraid to kill, but also has a heart of gold that slowly comes out of its shell over time. Serving as a fantastic companion is Charlize Theron’s Furiosa. This one-armed warrior ranks among the strongest female badasses to ever grace the silver screen (right alongside the likes of Ellen Ripley from ALIENS and Sarah Connor from TERMINATOR 2). Theron is compelling from the very first scene and ends up as one of the best characters to come out of the whole series. The brides also serve as more than damsels in distress too as they do everything in their power to help fight bad guys and protect their rescuers. Nicholas Hoult gives his best performance yet as Nux (the aforementioned pale-skinned soldier). The villains are also uniquely and delightfully insane.

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Running at two hours, FURY ROAD is the longest MAD MAX movie yet, but manages to feel perfectly paced all the way through. A majority of the film is action, but it’s all beautifully rendered action. You’ve pretty much seen nothing like the scenes in this movie before. It’s all about the brilliant execution of the carnage and mayhem! What’s really neat is to see an action film that’s loaded with scenes that feel like they’re really happening. I don’t know how many cars Miller had built and destroyed for this movie, but I’d wager there were a lot of them. If you can imagine the sheer madness of ROAD WARRIOR’s finale stretched for two hours and never getting boring, you’ve pretty much hit the nail on the head as to what watching FURY ROAD feels like.

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It’s not hyperbole to call MAD MAX: FURY ROAD one of the very best summer blockbusters in a long, long time. This movie is gloriously insane and extremely well-crafted! The heroes and heroines are fleshed out and worth rooting for, with main figure of the latter being one of the single best female characters that I’ve ever seen. The levels of creativity and imagination are through the roof. George Miller just schooled pretty much every wannabe action filmmaker who only rely on explosions and computer effects to make films. In FURY ROAD, the characters are developed, the stakes are high and the action gets your adrenaline pumping like no other. It’s said that if this film does well at the box office, there are already sequels lined up. If those future films are anywhere near as excellent as FURY ROAD, bring on more high-octane madness! Go see this movie on the big screen! You’ll be spending your time wisely and it deserves your money and support!

Grade: A+

MAD MAX: BEYOND THUNDERDOME (1985)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 47 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

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Directed by: George Miller & George Ogilvie

Written by: Terry Hayes & George Miller

Starring: Mel Gibson, Tina Turner, Bruce Spence, Adam Cockburn, Frank Thring, Angelo Rossitto & Gary Anderson

The MAD MAX series has had its ups and downs. The first MAD MAX was a highly original flick that creatively used a blend of genres to tell an interesting story. ROAD WARRIOR managed to surpass that first entry in every conceivable way and brought to life one of the best finales that the action genre has ever seen. So with both those films being highs, it doesn’t take a genius mathematician to figure out what the low is. BEYOND THUNDERDOME is lame. This third installment plays everything far too safe to be much fun at all. It has a crazy first 40 minutes and sinks into silly stupidity during the last hour.

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Fifteen years have passed since Max saved a group of survivors from Humungus. After being robbed of his vehicle and supplies, drifter Max winds up in scummy Bartertown. In this industrial city, Max is tasked by the powerful and threatening Aunty Entity to put one of her subjects back into his place. Max’s assignment doesn’t go as smoothly as planned and he is saved by a group of naïve children who are not fully aware about the current state of “civilization.” It’s up to Max to keep these kids safe, even if the evil Aunty comes a knocking.

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BEYOND THUNDERDOME doesn’t exactly have a great beginning. It feels like something is a tad off and forced about this third MAD MAX installment. This almost seems more along the lines of a post-apocalyptic INDIANA JONES adventure. However, this is supposed to be MAD MAX! The series has its groove and this third installment really steers too far away from that. This being said, the first 40 minutes of THUNDERDOME are tolerable and have cool ideas on display. The city of Bartertown is a steampunk slum that’s brought to life in a unique way. A gladiator-like fight to the death scene is hands down the best part of the entire film. However, things don’t stay tolerable with cool ideas on display.

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Holy shit. The last hour of this film really take everything down a notch in quality. The introduction of a band of wild children comes off like it’s from a completely different series. These didn’t feel like crazy, nutso Mad Max characters. These felt like the Lost Boys from Peter Pan. As soon as these children are introduced, the soundtrack also takes a noticeably wacky and whimsical change for the worst. The PG-13 rating hurts things further as pots and pans are used as weapons during a phoned-in finale that feels as if it was trying to unsuccessfully duplicate the insane climax of ROAD WARRIOR. Tina Turner’s Aunty is a weak baddie compared to the intimidating Humungus from the second film and the demented Toecutter from the first. Action scenes during the final third feel like a chore to sit through. I’d like to say that most of this isn’t because of the out-of-place band of kid characters, but that’s exactly what it is. They play such a huge part in this film that it botches what might have been a satisfying conclusion to a highly creative trilogy.

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Any way you slice it, BEYOND THUNDERDOME is a pretty big disappointment when taken in the context of the MAD MAX series. It still remains a bad film when taken on its own merits too. The distracting tonal change midway through really ruins the fun. When THUNDERDOME tries to imitate things that previously worked in the series, those qualities come off as forced. This especially being true of a lackluster final chase and a voice-over closing that feels cheesy (though it was utilized perfectly in ROAD WARRIOR). There are good moments throughout as well as memorable quotes (“Two men enter, one man leave” “Bust a deal. Face the wheel!”) as well as a sort of promising first act, but things go further and further down the tubes as the running time trudges onward. For the first 40 minutes, I felt like was a watching a MAD MAX movie (albeit a lesser one). For the last hour, I felt like I was watching Mad Max wander into a PETER PAN/GOONIES adventure. Skip THUNDERDOME. I really hope that FURY ROAD cleanses the MAD MAX palette in little over a month.

Grade: C-

MAD MAX 2: THE ROAD WARRIOR (1982)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 34 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

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Directed by: George Miller

Written by: Terry Hayes, George Miller & Brian Hannant

Starring: Mel Gibson, Bruce Spence, Emil Minty, Michael Preston, Virginia Hey, Kjell Nilsson, Vernon Wells & Max Phipps

The first MAD MAX was a combination of superhero origin story, revenge tale, and cop drama. ROAD WARRIOR abandons that formula for something entirely different and goes absolutely off the wall into beautiful madness. This film is awesome! Calling it one of the best action films to come out of the 80’s would be an understatement. This sequel right is next to ALIENS in terms of being a second installment in a successful science fiction series that outdoes the original in every conceivable way. Featuring some of the best action scenes ever put to film and a berserk set of sensibilities, ROAD WARRIOR is a surefire crowd-pleaser and one of the best films to come out of the 1980’s…period!

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Time has passed since Max avenged the deaths of his family. In that span of time, the post-apocalyptic world has gotten worse. Gasoline is running out and wars are being fought over fuel. Max, now a drifter, comes across a small community hiding behind a small fortress in order to collect enough gasoline to escape the harsh environment of the Australian desert. Instantly seeing Max as an enemy, the community takes the former cop (turned drifter) prisoner. It soon becomes apparent that Max is the only hope that this little group of survivors have. A gang of vicious psychopaths, led by the hockey-mask wearing Humungus, have staked a claim on this small community and their precious fuel supply. It’s Max and the community vs. Humungus and his band of crazies on the fierce road landscape of the Australian Outback.

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The first MAD MAX wasn’t necessarily action packed from beginning to end. There were certainly stand-out sequences, but there were also moments of character development for Max, his conflicts, and his family. Now that Max’s origin story has been told, ROAD WARRIOR is free to go off the rails into insane glory and that’s exactly what it does! The ante has been upped. Mad Max is more of a brooding, reluctant hero who has come a long way since his vigilante justice seen at the end of the first film. Max has become more of a solitary beast doing what he needs to in order to survive. He already had one story arc and is given another among this community. You might be able to predict what happens, but it doesn’t matter at all. This flick rocks and is all about kicking ass. It does its job in a fantastic way that’s likely to be the highest point in the series (though we’ll see how FURY ROAD stacks up). The villains are far more colorful this time around with dyed hair, mohawks, odd fashion choices and a gang leader who could be mistaken for Jason Voorhees being played by Arnold Schwarzenegger during any other point in the 80’s. Though the Outback setting is barren and set pieces are sparse, George Miller manages to evoke the feeling of hopelessness and desperation. This is the end of the world and it’s not a pretty sight, but is insanely fun!

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The action scenes are simply amazing to behold and stand out on own their own individual merits. There’s a long sequence near the beginning that’s gets the adrenaline pumping. An intense chase scene near the middle sets up a huge applause-worthy punchline to a joke that’s set up way in advance. However, the best sequence in the film is a show-stopping finale that holds up as remarkable given today’s action movie standards. These car crashes were real and feel real. Though it lasts for nearly 15 minutes, the final showdown of vehicular carnage never once gets dull or repetitive. The stakes are high in colorful characters who have been developed throughout the film, the fate of an entire community hanging on a thread (or in this case a semi-truck driven by Max), and plenty of bodies flying around. To think this was made in the early 80’s makes the whole film even more impressive in terms of how well-constructed every piece of action is! An opening and closing narration doesn’t feel cheesy in the slightest either as the pay-off is surprisingly powerful.

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I can’t think of a single action movie buff or science fiction fan who won’t adore this movie. THE ROAD WARRIOR joins an extremely rare breed of sequel: one that not only lives up to, but easily surpasses its predecessor. MAD MAX was a highly influential and classic film. This second entry is on an entirely separate level of greatness. ROAD WARRIOR is absolutely a must-see! FURY ROAD will have a lot to live up to come May.

Grade: A+

MAD MAX (1980)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 34 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

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Directed by: George Miller

Written by: George Miller & James McCausland

Starring: Mel Gibson, Joanne Samuel, Hugh Keays-Burne, Steve Bisley, Tim Burns & Roger Ward

With MAD MAX: FURY ROAD being touted as one of the biggest films of the upcoming summer movie season, I figured it was time for me to watch the series. Believe it or not, I’ve only seen bits and pieces of the MAD MAX series, but have never sat through one movie from beginning to end. This changed with my recent viewing of the dystopian action sensation that started it all. MAD MAX was released to much acclaim in its native Australia in 1979 and made its way to American shores the following year. The movie made a big impression as most modern post-apocalyptic stories usually take at least some inspiration from George Miller’s unique vision.

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Beginning with the title card of “A Few Years From Now…,” MAD MAX introduces us to a crumbling society. It’s dystopian in many ways, but civilized in peaceful communities still existing. However, violence is rampant in the form of violent psychopathic biker gangs. With these motorcycle-riding menaces on the road, only extremely violent police officers can saving the innocent. Max is an officer who’s becoming jaded to the chaos around him. After a particularly messy high-speed pursuit kills an insane biker named Nightrider, said biker’s friends come to town looking for the officer responsible for his death. Led by the vicious Toecutter, this group of violent lunatics cause general havoc on the streets. It’s up to Max to put a stop to them, but will he become corrupted in his pursuit of justice?

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The plot of MAD MAX feels very much like a superhero origin story crossed with a post-apocalyptic DEATH WISH and then mixed with a cop drama. It’s quite an interesting blend of genres and I can honestly say that I haven’t quite seen that specific cinematic combination before. Each different genre angle is great in its own way. The superhero origin tale nicely sets up a badass hero and makes me excited to catch up on the rest of the series. The post-apocalyptic vigilante angle isn’t necessarily taken for the whole movie, but slowly built up to for a finale that’s bound to keep you on the edge of your seat. Finally, I actually found the cop drama angle to be the most interesting of the three genres seen in MAD MAX. I really wasn’t expecting Max to have a family and be conflicted with his job (which can be dangerous to say the least) or spending time with his wife and child. This approach fleshed out the science-fiction action flick into something with more meat than just a well-executed film filled with car chases.

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Speaking of which, the car chases here are amazing. The stunts get your adrenaline pumping and actually made me question just how much courage the stuntmen had to have in order to brave certain moments in the film (multiple roll-overs, explosions, lots of car parts spread across the road). Mel Gibson brings a dark hero to the table in Max. He’s a badass through and through, with more than enough motivation for the viewer to root for him to come out on top. The villains are colorful and absurd (in a very good way). Toecutter is played with various quirks (changes in tone, little facial expressions, and a child-like attitude) that show just how insane he really is. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Joanne Samuel is a little wooden as Max’s wife. Her character isn’t exactly the sharpest tool in the shed and keeps making the same dumb decisions over and over again (one of which was mind-bogglingly ridiculous). Her decisions ultimately help move the plot forward, but I wish she had been better written.

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MAD MAX certainly wasn’t what I was initially expecting. It’s not car chases from beginning to end or a total dystopian action flick. Instead, this first film in the franchise blends various genres into an origin story that ultimately keeps going in crazier directions as it goes along. With a good hero who’s not afraid to get his hands dirty, crazy villains, an original combination of ideas, as well as some of the best car chases you’ll ever see in film, MAD MAX has solidified its spot in movie history. If you haven’t seen it already, check this one out!

Grade: A-

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