Sunday, September 27, 2015


Last month, I saw Dope at the New Parkway in Oakland.

Dope starring Shameik Moore, Tony Revolori & Kiersey Clemons; directed by Rick Famuyiwa; (2015) - Official Website

I guess this is a appropriate time to say that J. Moses Ceaser has stepped down as the General Manager of the New Parkway as of September 20.  The new general manager is Diane Tadano.  Ceaser emerged as the driving force in bringing the Parkway back into existence.  It's hard to believe that it has been nearly three years since the New Parkway reopened.  My recollection was that his background was not in film exhibition nor was it his career aspiration.  In his valedictory email, Ceaser states he will remain involved with programming the New Parkway & his ambitions don't stop at the Oakland border.  He states "One of the things that we’ll be exploring in 2016 is the possibility of taking the New Parkway to other Bay Area communities.  And we want to hear from you.  If you know of communities that would love a New Parkway, properties that we should look at, and/or people with whom we should speak, please let us know."  Having never been to an Alamo Drafthouse location, I have been under the impression that the New Parkway is the shabby chic cousin of the Alamo Drafthouse.  With the opening of the New Mission Theater imminent, I will be interested in comparing the two.

I also noted that the furniture has changed in one of the theaters.  Before the smaller auditorium had restaurant style tables on the main floor.  Now it has rows of seating with long tables for food & drink.  The chairs are on casters which make it hard to lean back and not move the entire chair.

Dope was my second trip to the New Parkway in 2015.  The food at the theater has improved since my last visit.  I had the daily special which on this day was meatloaf with string beans & mashed potatoes.  It exceeded my expectations.

Dope also exceeded my expectations.  It's the story of three high school seniors in Inglewood - Malcolm (Shameik Moore), Jib (Tony Revolori) & Diggy (Kiersey Clemons).  I've never been to Inglewood.  The only thing I know about it is that the Forum (the Los Angeles Lakers former home arena) is there.  If Dope is to be believed, there is a gang problem in Inglewood.  Malcolm, Jib & Diggy form the geek squad at their school.  It's the type of school where the kids have to go through metal detectors but the cop/security guard waves Malcolm & his friends through because of their reputation.

The plot is fairly intricate but essentially, Malcolm & his friends go to a club party where they shouldn't be.  A botched drug deal at the club ends with a brick of ecstasy in Malcolm's backpack.  Eventually, gangbangers & drug dealers are after Malcolm for the drugs.  The drug kingpin Malcolm eventually throws in with turns out to be the Harvard alumni Malcolm is meeting with for a letter of recommendation.  Forced to sell the drugs, Malcolm & his cohorts use the dark net & bitcoins to move some serious Molly.

It's all a little too contrived if you think about it too much but I mostly enjoyed the film.  It's kind of like Porky's meets Revenge of the Nerds meets Boyz n the Hood.  At times, Malcolm runs into some scary characters which makes the film uneven but I admire director Rick Famuyiwa for trying it and often pulling it off.  Some of the characters reminded me of Joe Pesci in Goodfellas.  They're funny because they are so deranged but when the violence explodes they're pretty damn scary.

Shameik Moore is solid as Malcolm which is a character that reacts to the craziness around; essentially playing the straight man.  Zoë Kravitz has a small role as the object of Malcolm's desires.

Dope trades on the stereotypes of inner city black youths.  It sets up Malcolm & his friends as the antithesis of those stereotypes and mines the humor in the interactions of Malcolm (presumably the audience's point of view) with these stereotypes.  Dope does this very effectively and to fine comic effect.

Saturday, September 26, 2015


Although Tangerine played at the Castro Theater on Tuesday, I saw it last Friday at the Roxie.  To be specific, I saw it at the Little Roxie which seems a more appropriate venue than the cavernous Castro for a small independent film like Tangerine.

Tangerine starring Kitana Kiki Rodriguez & Mya Taylor; directed by Sean Baker; (2015) - Official Website

Tangerine premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.  It has received quite a bit of press because it was filmed on iPhones using an $8 app.  It also screened at this year's San Francisco International Film Festival.

The film is a screwball comedy set among the tranny streetwalkers in Hollywood.  The protagonist is Sin Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) who is just out of a 30 day lockup.  She meets up with her friend and fellow tranny hooker Alexandra (Mya Taylor).  Alexandra lets slip that Sin Dee's boyfriend & pimp has been cheating on her with a woman as in "born with a vagina" woman.  These transgender terms are always hard for me to convey.

This propels Sin Dee to search the back alleys and sleazy motels for the elusive Dinah.  Along the way, we get a glimpse into the lives of Alexandra (who wants to be a singer) and an Armenian cab driver Razmik (Karren Karagulian) who likes to pick up the trans streetwalkers and go down on them.

This all sounds sordid.  There is a scene where Sin Dee finds Dinah in a cheap motel giving a blowjob in the shower which is outrageous enough to give one pause.  For some reason, there is a light-heartedness to the film which belies its seedy environs.

Alexandra spends most of the film giving out flyers to her performance at a club.  No one shows up except Sin Dee with Dinah forcibly in tow.  It turns out Alexandra has to pay the club to perform.  It's sad and funny which describes many of the scenes in Tangerine.

The finale is set in a donut shop where Razmik, his mother-in-law, wife, infant child, Dinah, Sin Dee, Alexandra, Sin Dee's pimp Chester (James Ransone) and the Asian proprietor of the shop converge.  It reminded me of one of those Golden Age comedies where the characters converge in the end and their secrets are exposed.  Actually, while watching Tangerine, it felt vaguely familiar because it was a pastiche of genres & influences.  It was a screwball comedy, a road trip except Sin Dee walked or took the bus everywhere and at times reminded me of the works of John Cassavetes and Abel Ferrara.  Tangerine carves out something unique though.  Any film that can have not one but two comic scenes of failed fellatio by streetwalkers gets my nod of approval.

If I recall correctly, actors Kitana Kiki Rodriguez & Mya Taylor are long-time friends and tight-lipped about their past & present lives.  They had input in the character development.  The relationship between Sin Dee & Alexandra is the bedrock of the film.  Repeatedly, the depth of their friendship becomes apparent in their actions.  That gives the film an emotional foundation and makes these strange (for me) characters seems not so strange.

Tangerine is a niche film.  Certainly some people will be offended by it but ultimately it is a film about friendship & self-discovery.

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Puzzle Within the Castro Theater's September 2015 Calendar - Revised

At some point during the month, the Castro Theater revised their on-line calendar.  They included a third person's photo on September 8.

I previously identified Jean-Luc Godard (September 21) and Paulette Goddard (September 28).

Using my scale of 1 to 4, I was at Level 3 when I identified the individual on September 8.  Looking for the "God" in the individual's name, I eventually tracked down Godfrey Cambridge who had an impressive resume of films which I have wanted to see but have not had the opportunity.  He was the lead in Melvin Van Peebles' Watermelon Man and had prominent roles in two well known blaxpoitation films of the 1970s - Friday Foster & Cotton Comes to Harlem. Looking at his credits, I don't believe I've ever seen a film or television appearance by Cambridge.

Cambridge's inclusion in the calendar only reinforces the clues.  The clue was God to paraphrase a passage from the Bible.   Are the clues pointing to Pope's current visit to the United States?  I don't know.

Castro Theater Calendar - September 2015 Revised

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Grandma at Camera 7

A few weekends ago, my plans went catawampus so with some free time, I went down to San Jose with the express purpose of seeing a film at the Camera 7 Pruneyard.  I had never been to that multiplex before.

I had intended to see two films that evening but just missed the earlier screenings so I had to settle with the late screening of Grandma.

Grandma starring Lily Tomlin & Julia Garner; with Marcia Gay Harden, Sam Elliott & Laverne Cox; directed by Paul Weitz; (2015) - Official Website

The Camera 7 is in the Pruneyard Shopping Center - an outdoor mall that I was unfamiliar with.  The anchor tenants appear to be Marshall's, Sports Basement & Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery.  Camera 7 is located on what I consider the backside of the shopping center in between Coffee Society & Pizza My Heart.  In fact, Pizza My Heart opens up directly into the lobby of the movie theater.  Apparently, they had some water damage in the movie theater because the concession stand was closed on September 12 & still closed per their website.  I was encouraged by the cinema staff to partake of some slices of pie from Pizza My Heart.

Camera 7 is a nondescript multiplex which reminds me of some of the movie theaters from my youth in the 1980s.  It looks as though the space has been repurposed into a cinema.  The auditorium I was in looked exactly like one of the 2nd floor auditoriums in the Camera 12.

I arrived at 7:45 PM on a Saturday night & parking was tough.  There are some multistory parking garages in the back where I found a spot.  With some time to kill, I looked around.  I had an uninspiring sandwich at Coffee Society served by seemingly disinterested staff.  Despite the less than stellar food & service, the place was quite crowded.  It seems to be the type of place where college students hold their study groups.

All told, the trip wasn't worth it.  I went mainly to see the Camera 7 and although the programming was much to my liking, the theater was not worth the trip.  Eighteen months ago, I listed 11 theaters I wanted to visit.  I've subsequently visited three - Camera 7, Los Gatos & Vine Cinema & Alehouse.


Grandma has been well received by critics.  It's a road trip movie about Elle (Lily Tomlin), a poet who is still coping with the death of her lesbian partner of many years.  As the film opens, Elle is breaking up with her younger girlfriend (Judy Greer).  Wallowing in self-pity, Elle receives an unexpected visit from her teenage granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner).  She's pregnant & needs money for an abortion.  Neither of them wants to go to Sage's mother for the money.  Unfortunately (and rather contrivedly), Elle doesn't have the money on her.  Elle seems comfortable enough but she has just paid off all her debts and made wind chimes out of her credit cards.  She doesn't have the $600 Sage needs for the abortion so they go on a journey (actually more of an odyssey) around Los Angeles to find the money Sage needs.

This includes trips to a coffeehouse on the site of a former free abortion clinic, Sage's stoner boyfriend, a tattoo parlor, another coffeehouse where Elle's now ex-girlfriend works, the home of Elle's ex-boyfriend from 40 years ago & finally the office of Elle's daughter/Sage's mother.  At each stop, Elle is forced to confront old demons, hard truths & repressed feelings.

Two scenes stood out for me.  The first is when Elle has to ask her ex-boyfriend for the money.  As the scene unfolds, we learn that Karl (Sam Elliott) still harbors quite a bit of resentment towards Elle whose most critically acclaimed poem depicts a painful moment in their relationship and paints him as "the ogre."  When Karl learns the money Elle is asking for is to pay for Sage's abortion, we realize how much pain Elle's choice afflicted on Karl.

The other scene involves the oft-mentioned but never seen Judy (daughter of Elle & mother of Sage).  She makes her first appearance about 75% of the way into the film.  I've long admired the work of Marcia Gay Harden.  I first saw her in the Coen Brothers' Miller's Crossing (1990) and I now seek out her films and television appearances.  I recall some memorable appearances as an FBI agent on Law & Order SVU.

Anyway, in Grandma Harden plays a hard charging lawyer who must be intimidating to both her mother & daughter.  In the scene with the three of them, you get a sense of how dysfunctional the family is but also how deeply they care for each other.

Grandma is a well-crafted film.  Tomlin's performance is referred to as a "tour de force" but the film doesn't have the plot to accommodate a tour de force performance.  It's Tomlin vehicle and she gets a lot of the laughs but the film is more modest in its ambitions.  Its milieu is more existential than life changing or even life affirming.

Saturday, September 19, 2015


Last weekend, I saw Trainwreck at the Balboa Theater.  I had intended to spend some time reading and updating this blog at La Promenade Café which is across the street from the Balboa.  Seating was limited and when I finally got a seat some weird jackass with a directional microphone wouldn't stop asking me questions.  I finally got up and left.  I walked across the street and Trainwreck was starting in 15 minutes so I decided to take a chance.

Trainwreck starring Amy Schumer & Bill Hader; with Brie Larson, Colin Quinn, Tilda Swinton, Vanessa Bayer, Daniel Radcliffe, Marisa Tomei, Lebron James & John Cena; directed by Judd Apatow; (2015) - Official Website

Judd Apatow has his name attached to so many projects, it's hard for me to keep track.  Looking at his filmography, the only film which he directed that I've seen is The 40 Year Old Virgin. I'd never seen Amy Schumer before although I did read a memorable profile of her in GQ a couple of months ago.  Trainwreck has garnered mixed reviews.  My expectations were moderate going into the film.

Trainwreck is about Amy, a writer who works at a wonderfully trashy tabloid magazine.  Her personal life is a wreck mainly due to the influence of her father (Colin Quinn) who cheated on Amy's mother with regularity but without remorse.  At the beginning of the film, Amy has a boyfriend played by John Cena.  A sensitive athletic trainer with not-so-latent homosexual tendencies, he is a complete mismatch for Amy.

When Amy gets an assignment to profile an orthopedic surgeon (Bill Hader) who has developed a revolutionary technique, she is drawn to him despite their differences and her better judgment.  He's successful and nice...not a borderline alcoholic...and can count his sexual partners without the help of a database.  It's clear that Amy Schumer (also the screenwriter) has created the character of Amy as
flawed if not amusing lead character.  That fact that that type of character is female has drawn some commentary but I didn't find her gender to be that much of an issue.  Would I want to date the character of Amy?  Not in a million years but like in the film, she would be a source of endless amusement if you are not emotionally invested in her.

More interesting to me is the implication that the Amy in Trainwreck is a thinly veiled version of real-life Amy Schumer.  In the film, Amy's sister is named Kim (Brie Larson).  In real-life, Amy's sister is named Kim.  In the film, Amy's boyfriend is played by John Cena (a WWE wrestler) and they break up.  In real life, Amy Schumer ex-boyfriend is professional wrestler Dolph Ziggler.  There are several parallels between Amy's father & Amy Schumer's father.  The outrageousness of some of the scenes makes one wonder how much of a confessional Trainwreck really is.  Where does fact end and fiction begin?  It takes some courage on Schumer's part to put her life out there for comment although I doubt Schumer is a shrinking violet in her personal life.

Trainwreck follows several of the tropes of a romantic comedy with the typical Apatow flourishes which are slightly askew because they are performed by women (Schumer, sometimes Vanessa Bayer as Amy's coworker and Tilda Swinton who stands out as the overbearing editor at the magazine where Amy works).  Relegated to be Amy's sounding board is Brie Larson as Amy's married & reasonable little sister who lives in the suburbs.

A film like Trainwreck follows a formula - Girl Meet Boy, Girl Falls in Love with Boy, Girl Acts Like a Jerk, Girl & Boy Break Up and finally Girl & Boy Get Back Together.  The humor & originality in Trainwreck come from inverting the gender roles with respect to the traditional romcom.  Schumer gets to act like the lecher & Hader largely plays "the girl."  Set in New York City, Apatow & Schumer add numerous sports celebrities to punch up the film.  Hader's best friend is Lebron James playing Lebron James who is surprisingly invested in the specifics of romantic aspects of the relationship.  When they break up, James arranges an intervention for Hader's character with Chris Evert, Matthew Broderick & Marv Albert.

The laughs come moderately fast & mildly furious in Trainwreck.  Some gags fall short but Apatow, Schumer, et al. keep swinging away.  Daniel Radcliffe & Marisa Tomei turn up in a film-within-a-film called The Dogwalker - a romcom spoof which of course, Trainwreck also is.

Trainwreck was an entertaining evening.  If I had planned out the evening, I would have undoubtedly chosen a different film & likely would have not have regretted missing Trainwreck but as it turned the film was a modest serendipity.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Puzzle Within the Castro Theater's September 2015 Calendar

The Castro Theater's organ was removed after the August 30 screening of The Crowd.   As you may recall, the organ's owner wanted to remove it.  I first heard about this over two years ago.  Long time Castro Theater organist David Hegarty started a non-profit to save the organ called the Castro Organ Devotees Association (SF CODA).  I never did donate.  I forgot about the issue.

Apparently, SF CODA was successful.  It is designing an organ with 400 ranks and 7 manuals.  Frankly, I don't know what an organ rank is and I can only guess that a manual is essentially a keyboard.  Regardless, it sounds impressive and I'm glad an organ will remain at the Castro Theater.  I haven't read or heard when the new organ will be installed.

By the way, I notice the custom of clapping while the organ plays "San Francisco" and descends into the pit is going by the wayside.  I'm not sure if it is because new people don't know about the custom.  I usually clap but I don't like to clap too early because it gets tedious.  However, if the crowd response isn't there from the beginning, the clapping usually dies out by the time I'm ready to start clapping.  I feel silly clapping by myself so sometimes I don't clap.


I had to cheat by using Google Image Search for both clues in this month's Castro Theater calendar..

September 21 - so familiar but I could not place him.  It's Jean-Luc Godard.  The photo is likely from the late 1950s or 1960s.

September 28 - another face that I knew but could not name.  It's Paulette Goddard also known as the third and penultimate Mrs. Charlie Chaplin as well as the third and penultimate Mrs. Burgess Meredith.

Godard and Goddard - both derivations of the German surname Gotthard which translates to God Hard.  That got me thinking about the names.  Jean-Luc & Paulette anglicized and masculinized become John and Paul as in Pope John Paul or Pope John Paul II.  I have a co-worker who is spending time in Philadelphia and he told me that the City of Brotherly Love is in a tizzy over the upcoming visit by Pope Francis on September 26-27.  That reminded me that Pope John Paul II visited San Francisco in the 1980s.  I looked up the dates of John Paul II.  He was in San Francisco from September 17 to 18, 1987.  The most famous part of that visit was the Catholic Mass he led at Candlestick Park where it was reported that 70,000 attended.

Less well know is that the Pope visited Mission Dolores and the Golden Gate Bridge the day before.  Those two locales feature prominently in Vertigo which screened from September 4 to 7 in 70 mm.  That may be too much lateral thinking:  Jean-Luc Godard & Paulette Goddard to a Pope John Paul II visit 28 years ago to Vertigo.

On that same trip the Pope flew into Monterey Peninsula Airport and met then Carmel Mayor Clint Eastwood but that doesn't seem relevant because I don't see any Eastwood films or Carmel/Monterey set films on the calendar.

Pope John Paul II (center); September 17, 1987


The September calendar leaves me mild.  I have seen at least 15 films on the schedule.  I may not go to the Castro during the month of September 2015.

The highlight is the Vittorio de Sica triple bill on September 26 presented by Cinema Italia SF.  I am particularly keen to see Two Women (1960) with Sophia Loren and Jean-Paul Belmondo.  Unfortunately, I have another commitment that day.

Tangerine on September 22 has been garnering strong reviews but is playing also playing at the Roxie starting tomorrow.


Castro Theater Calendar - September 2015

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad Max World

The summer of 2015 will go down as the one where I rediscovered the Mad Max franchise.

On July 15, I watched Mad Max 2:  The Road Warrior as part of a Midnites for Maniacs triple bill at the Castro Theater.

In the early morning hours of August 22, I caught a midnight screening of Mad Max at the Landmark Clay.

Most recently, I watched Mad Max:  Fury Road on August 26 at the Castro Theater.

Mad Max 2:  The Road Warrior starring Mel Gibson; directed by George Miller; (1981)
Mad Max starring Mel Gibson; directed by George Miller; (1979)
Mad Max:  Fury Road starring Tom Hardy & Charlize Theron; directed by George Miller; (2015)

The flurry of Mad Max films is no doubt a result of the release of Mad Max:  Fury Road.  If I had planned more in advance, I could have seen the entire tetralogy this summer.  I remember  Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome screened in a Bay Area theater somewhere this summer.  I can't find the listing now.

Actually, a fifth film in the series has been announced - Mad Max:  The Wasteland with potentially two more after that so I shouldn't be calling it a tetralogy but rather a planned septology.

I guess I'll write about the films in chronological order rather than the order in which I saw them.  I have seen all four films before but I may have seen The Road Warrior before Mad Max.  The Road Warrior was on television quite a bit in the 1980s and 1990s.

Mad Max (George Miller's feature length directorial debut) introduces the character of Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson).  While watching the film at the Clay, I thought it resembled Death Wish.  The setting of the film is left vague.  I think it makes some references to Australia but it has a distinctly dystopian future feel.  Lawlessness is rampant and Max plays a hotshot highway patrolman who is burnt out with dealing with the dregs of society and wants to spend more time with his wife and son.

The film starts immediately with a lunatic called the Nightrider (Vincent Gil) shooting some police officers and speeding away in their car with his girlfriend.  After easily handling the police pursuit, the Nightrider encounters Max on the road and a high-speed game of chicken causes the Nightrider to back down, lose his nerve and die in a fiery crash.

It turns out Nightrider isn't a lone nutjob but part of a gang and the gang has now declared war on the highway patrol in general and Max specifically.  After some preliminaries where Max's best friend on the force is disfigured and Max's wife and child are killed, Max retaliates against the motorcycle gang led by Toecutter (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and his first lieutenant Bubba (Geof Parry).

In hindsight, the film serves to establish Max's conditions (physically & emotionally).  Max's knee brace & limp in The Road Warrior & Beyond Thunderdome are explained by a wound he suffers in this film.  His loner nature is explained by the pain of seeing his family murdered and his own response to those murders.

In the end, Max abandons all pretense of law enforcement and become a vigilante.  As a revenge tale, Mad Max is a solid film.  It's nowhere near as elaborate as the films that would come after it, Mad Max has that Ausploitation feel - murder, mayhem, rape, et al.  The scene where the bikers run over Max's wife & son is iconic.  Similarly, the Nightrider's ramblings over the police frequency radio are memorable.  I remembered both scenes from my last viewing of the film which must have been over 20 years ago.

Gibson is wooden at times but a film like Mad Max belongs to the villains - the psychotic Nightrider, the intimidating Toecutter & the quietly menacing Bubba.  The female characters in the film are, without exception, victims or ineffectual although Max's wife puts up a fight before eventually being run down by the bikers.

Little did Mad Max portend the rest of the series.  There were small signs in Mad Max that look significant with the hindsight of The Road Warrior but for the most part, Mad Max is set in a world which is recognizable to our own.  With a bigger budget and some creative freedom, Miller uses Mad Max as a launching point for his imagination in future films.  The Road Warrior is set in some other world...where gay men with leather fetishes have become marauders.  I guess within the context of the dystopian world of Mad Max it would make sense.  In a world where women are scarce, men resort to homosexuality.

Oil/gasoline is scarce in this film so the world has fallen into chaos.  This was a common theme in the 1970s and 1980s due to various oil embargos and gasoline price spikes.  Max sees the aforementioned band of marauders attack a small group near a functioning oil extraction/gasoline refining facility.  Honestly, it doesn't look anything like the oil refineries in Rodeo or Richmond but that's not the point.  Max makes a deal to return the sole survivor of the attack back to his tribe in the refinery in exchange for one tank of gasoline.

Once in the refinery, Max gets caught up in the war between the marauders led by a muscular man in a hockey mask called Lord Humungus and the oil refiners led by Pappagallo.  Eventually siding with the refiners out of necessity, Max drives an oil tanker to their new location.  This is the highlight of the film.  It's an extended sequence where Max drives the tuck as he is constantly attacked by the bikers.

Director George Miller manages to populate the The Road Warrior with more interesting characters than Mad Max.  Among them are the Feral Kid (Emil Minty), the Gyrocopter Pilot (Bruce Spence), Wez (Vernon Wells) and the Warrior Woman (Virginia Hey).

The Feral Kid reminded me of The Wild Child, a François Truffaut film about a child raised in the wilderness and Lucan, a short-lived television series about a boy raised by wolves.  The Feral Kid had impressively feathered hair.  Bruce Spence as the Gyro Captain stole the show in my opinion.  Picaresque and with a toothy grin that would make Austin Powers cringe, Spence is memorable indeed.  Wez spends the entire film in ass-less chaps (with a codpiece in front and a tastefully placed fox tail in back), football shoulder pads and a mohawk.  He was clearly the prime inspiration for the popular 1980s wrestler duo The Road Warriors; Hawk & Animal didn't dress like The Feral Kid or Max.  Wez is particularly aggrieved at the refiners because the Feral Kid planted a sharpened boomerang into his "friend's" head.  Finally, I had forgotten about the Warrior Woman but upon rewatching the film, I see that she probably inspired Tina Turner's character in Beyond Thunderdome, Charlize Theron's character in Fury Road and possibly Rambo's use of a compound bow in the Rambo films.

With The Road Warrior, Miller begins a Mad Max tradition of creating these intricate and detailed alternate realities.  Compared against modern reality, they are ridiculous but within their own context, they are real enough.  The Road Warrior sets the mold that Beyond Thunderdome and Fury Road follow - mayhem in an unfamiliar post-apocalyptic environment where Max, the anti-hero, grudgingly throws his lot in with the underdogs or oppressed.

I've read that the Mad Max series consists of Western (as in Western movies) morality tales set in a punk environment.  The Road Warrior has some plot parallels with The Magnificent Seven but then again The Magnificent Seven was adapted from the Japanese film The Seven Samurai.  I think what distinguishes Gibson's portrayal of Max is his detachment from everyone else; a detachment born out of the pain of losing everyone he ever cared for.  That's neither unique nor original in films but give Gibson/Miller credit for not amping up Max's character.  We later see Gibson's performances of a similar character (Martin Riggs from the Lethal Weapon series).  Two protagonists with a similar backstory and outlook on life played by the same actor but with very different results.  Max is the locus around which memorable maniacs gather.  Riggs is the maniac around which more homicidal maniacs gather.

I can't remember Beyond Thunderdome very well.  I seem to recall it being the least favorite of the three Mel Gibson films.  Beyond Thunderdome received a PG13 rating whereas as the other two films (and Fury Road) received R ratings.

For Fury Road, Miller took the universe of The Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome and turned the volume up to 11.  After Mad Max, Miller striped away direct references to Max's backstory and motivations as well as expository dialogue  or narration to help explain the world the audience is seeing on the screen.  Miller continues that in Fury Road but with a bigger budget and almost operatic ambitions.  In one scene, the pursuing army of ragtap vehicles is lead by a truck with six drummers sitting at an angle on the bed play extremely large drums and a guitarist hung from a crane in front of the truck with a wall of speakers behind him.  It's funny and outrageously over the top but yet when I thought about it I guess the setup could be used to communicate orders to the caravan like the drum and bugle corps used to do with armies.  I will say that the flames shooting out of the guitar's neck was a particularly rococo flourish.

It's as if Miller decided to pick and choose from his previous films.  There are brief flashbacks to Max's backstory that seem similar to Mad Max.  Most of the scene involves Max, et al. running a gauntlet in a tricked oil tanker truck similar to the end of Road Warrior.  Miller even brings back Hugh Keays-Byrne (Toecutter) to be the main bad guy in Fury Road.

How to describe the film?  There is a Mad Max Wiki to help but I went in cold.  Max (Tom Hardy) is captured by some warriors (known as war boys) who are pasty white, bald headed and heavily scared.  He is taken to the Citadel which is ruled by Immortan Joe (Keays-Byrne).  The source of his power is the aquifier under the Citadel.  In this universe, water is scarce as is gasoline & bullets.

Between the war boys & Immortan Joe in status are Imperators of which Furiosa (Charlize Theron) is foremost.  Joe has five wives whom he keeps as essentially procreation slaves.  Beyond them, there are a lot of weird looking people at the Citadel.

Fed up with the way he treats his wives, Furiosa smuggles them out of the Citadel in a war rig (a beefed up oil tanker).  When Immortan Joe realizes his wives have been taken he sets out with a motley assortment of vehicles and one war boy, Nux (Nicholas Hoult) takes Max along as a good luck charm.  Max is strapped to the front of a car like a hood ornament.

Eventually, out of necessity as usual, Max & Nux fall in with Furiosa and the five wives.  Furiosa is escaping to the Green Place where she grew up.  To get there, they will have to go through hellacious dust storms and swamplands while fighting off Immortan Joe's war boys and allies.  I won't give away the ending but let's just say climate change plays a role.

Miller strips away all unnecessary dialog and much of what remains was inaudible to me due to muffled voices or background noise.  I couldn't understand Immortan Joe's growl so I probably lost some thing from the experience.  Instead, Miller just shows Max & Furiosa doing there thing, largely without dialog.  I can't recall a single line of dialog from Max.  Although the title was Mad Max, it could have just as easily been Imperator Furiosa.  Sporting a buzz cut & prosthetic arm, Theron commands the screen.  Note:  it seemed as though the more hair you had, the higher your social status at the Citadel.

Miller litters Fury Road with so many flourishes and details that the effect is not overwhelming but actually the opposite.  I started to strip away all my questions and focus on whether Max, Furiosa and the gang to make it out alive.

Among my favorite moments - when war boys begin to use long poles like pole vaulters do to move from vehicle to vehicle during the high speed chase and one of Immortan Joe's advisers is this little person (dwarf?) with a face like a middle aged man and body like a was something straight out of Freaks.

Fury Road was a favorite of the critics at the Cannes Film Festival this year.  Reading not their reviews but articles about their near unanimous praise of the film, I reversed my decision about seeing Fury Road.  Ultimately, the film is a long chase scene but well choreographed stunts, an imaginative setting, Theron's acting and the Mad Max brand elevate Fury Road above the numerous action films I've seen.  I like action films.  I was going to write "I like an action film as much as the next guy" but that's probably not true especially if the next guy is an American between the ages of 15 and 35.  I'm frequently disappointed and bored by action films and that was not the case with Fury Road so I guess that is my ultimate recommendation - it didn't bore me to sleep but then neither did Mad Max or Road Warrior.  George Miller is doing something right with these Mad Max films.