The most impressive thing about both Mad Max and its admittedly superior sequel, The Road Warrior, is that director George Miller (a former medical doctor, if you can believe that) and his ragtag group of crazy stunt drivers had to actually go out into the Australian outback and… well, make this movie. There’s no post-production trickery or computer-generated imagery here — they had to crash, smash and flip over all of those vehicles, run over and set fire to all of those poor bastards and blow up all of those buildings for real. Mad Max is a radical piece of extreme cinema, a brash and brawny circus spectacle in which a former police officer stomps his way through a violent and near-lawless future as he seeks revenge on the members of a vicious motorcycle gang that killed his wife and young son. Sure, it’s got more than its share of rough edges, and The Road Warrior is so much better that it almost completely cancels its predecessor out, but the original Mad Max still deserves credit for providing our first glimpse of Miller’s stunning dystopian vision… and for making a movie star out of a young bloke named Mel Gibson.
In this critically acclaimed yet little-seen Canadian gem, the world is set to end at midnight (Eastern Standard Time, mind you) as the result of some unexplained calamity (which might have something to do with an ominously glowing sun that burns well into the night), an event that’s actually been expected for several months. Both strangely laid-back and unapologetically emotional, Last Night follows several intersecting characters as they spend their final hours in Earth in radically different ways, including the owner of a power company (played by David Cronenberg!) who calls up all of his customers and assures them that the electricity will stay on all the way to the end; the depressed widower (played by writer-director Don McKellar) who unexpectedly makes one last strong human connection (with the power company owner’s wife, played by the excellent Sandra Oh); and the best friend (Callum Keith Rennie) who engages in a non-stop sex marathon (or at least tries to). Oh, and obligatory Canadian actress Sarah Polley also appears as McKellar’s sister. This strange, haunting and ultimately rather beautiful film won several awards, including the Award of the Youth at the Cannes Film Festival and Best Canadian First Feature Film at the Toronto International Film Festival.
A Boy and His Dog takes place in an alternate timeline in which JFK actually survived his 1963 assassination, which leads to technological advancement happening at a much quicker pace (androids are the common household servant before the turn of the century) — and, unfortunately, to two more World Wars, with WWIV being fought with nuclear weapons and lasting all of four days. Young Vic (Don Johnson) and his dog Blood, a super-intelligent canine who can communicate via telepathy courtesy of genetic experimentation, wander around the post-apocalyptic wasteland that was once Earth, doing little more than bickering, foraging for food (Blood is especially fond of popcorn), dodging mutants (called “screamers” for obvious reasons) and searching for women with whom Vic can satisfy his carnal desires; that is, until they stumble across an underground society that’s created a sinister new world utopia — one that’s “volunteered” Vic to provide semen with which to impregnate 35 women. Based on the sci-fi writings of Harlan Ellison and one of the few directorial efforts of character actor L.Q. Jones, A Boy and His Dog is just as clever, bizarre and sick as it sounds, with a surprise twist ending that many criticized as being crudely misogynistic.
A government-developed virus (officially known as “Project Blue” but more popularly known as “Captain Trips” or, simply, the “superflu”) is unleashed at a military base, though one soldier manages to escape the containment area with his wife and kid; this poor bastard ends up being “patient zero,” finally succumbing to the sickness himself at a gas station in Arnette, Texas and starting the spread of a bug that not even Flu Buddy can fix. Eventually, 99.4% of the world’s population has been wiped out, with the survivors eventually forming two camps: the “Free Zone” in Boulder, Colorado, where the settlers are looked after by their spiritual leader, Mother Abigail (Ruby Dee), and another in Las Vegas, which is run with an iron fist by Randall Flagg (Jamey Sheridan), a malevolent being with supernatural powers — once the two groups learn of each other’s existence, an epic battle between good and evil ensues. The opening scene, which features a tracking shot through the corpse-littered military base set to Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” sets a level of dark wit and intensity that unfortunately is never matched by anything that follows; however, The Stand, based on one of Stephen King’s best novels, remains entertaining throughout thanks to a cast to die for, including Gary Sinise, Ed Harris, Molly Ringwald, Laura San Giacomo, Ossie Davis, Kathy Bates, Miguel Ferrer and Rob Lowe, with appearances by John Landis, Sam Raimi and King himself.
“In this frightening time, one man makes a difference.” Imagine Bodhi, the surfer philosopher from Point Break, and Dalton, the bouncer philosopher from Road House, merged together and you’ll get an idea of Nomad (also played by Patrick Swayze), the brooding swordsman who wanders the wasteland of post-World War III. When we first meet Nomad, he’s standing on his head in the middle of the desert for no particular reason, an activity interrupted by mutants that scurry from the sand, looking for trouble. Nomad makes short work of these screeching freaks and is soon on a quest for the elusive Sho (Christopher Neame), the assassin who killed his mentor; he later finds himself in small town in need of protection from raiders, where he falls in love with a cute farmer (Lisa Niemi, Swayze’s real-life wife) and gets to swing his sword some more. Sounds freakin’ amazing, doesn’t it? Well, it is — in that cheap, cheesy ’80s kind of way, of course. As always, Swayze’s ultra-earnest acting style transcends even the hokiest material (think about it — what Patrick Swayze movie isn’t ridiculous?), making the audience true believers in the face of complete and total cinematic absurdity.