in Movies

Jalopnik Film Festival: Car Movies Don’t Get Better Than ‘Mad Max’ & ‘Ronin’

ronin robert de niro

After a week full of film festivals (LA EigaFest, Hollywood Film Festival), it’s back to our boring lives. A routine trip to the store will not turn into a high speed chase. A tiff at work won’t turn into a devastating revenge plot.

With a Friday night screening and party, with an all-day Saturday event, Jalopnik Film Festival was a breath of fresh air in that it was a festival that seemed manageable. There wasn’t 14 different screening locations, tons of lines or even a program. It was low key; so low key, in fact, that multiple screenings started early, unheard of in the festival circuit, and certainly in LA: you’d think an LA-based car movie festival would be attuned to how long it takes to park/get anywhere in LA, but it was kind of a cute/frustrating wrinkle to the proceedings.

It had been a long time since I had seen George Miller’s original Mad Max. So long, in fact, that I had subconsciously remembered Road Warrior as the first one, not realizing that the original revenge and cars flick didn’t exist in the apocalypse yet. But the film is even better today given historical context, and it’s incredible that nearly 40 years after the fact, Miller was able to imbue the same ferocious attitude in Fury Road.

At its heart, Mad Max is really Mel Gibson as The Punisher, a deadly revenge movie jam-packed with cars, bikes and anger, with shades of the wonderful future insanity to come. The film boasts tremendous build-up, with the “Mad Max” of the title only existing in the last 15 minutes. But it’s worth the wait, with Toecutter (Hughs Keays-Byrne) and Johnny the Boy leading a motorcycle gang that still feels envelope-pushing, bizarre and scary today.

The other treasure I could finally discover was Ronin, a 1998 film that hadn’t aged a day (beyond its computers/cell phones). John Frankenheimer’s movie is acknowledged as featuring some of the best car chase scenes ever shot, but it’s more than just screeching wheels. It’s a classic heist movie, with a phenomenal cast that includes 90’s legend Jean Reno, Sean Bean, Stellan Skarsgard, Natascha McElhone and the great Jonathan Pryce as the baddie. It’s full of the usual twist and turns of betrayal, and feels like an arthouse Italian Job (or a companion to Brian de Palma’s Mission: Impossible), and plays like a really well-crafted and well-acted blockbuster that would do well in front of today’s audiences.

Most surprisingly, Sean Bean DOESN’T DIE! In fact, he was seemingly the one loose end, or seemed to be, given his reputation that has grown since this picture.

The only loose end for the Jalopnik Film Festival itself, is that nagging itch for what’s to come next year.