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We All Go A Little Mad Sometimes

At the impressive and greatly experienced age of 79, George Miller thankfully shows no apparent signs of slowing down.

After witnessing up close and personal the very worst and most sickening car crashes, injuries and even deaths, Aussie-born George Miller changed his career path, with a sharp 180. Miller shifted his career aspirations from being an ER Doctor, to his passionate love for films, mythic heroes and all things, Joseph Campbell.

The age-old adage “Necessity is the mother of invention,” holds never truer than on a no-budget feature film directorial debut. In Miller’s particular case, Mad Max (1979) is a lean, mean, brutal, action-flick. It’s also a brilliant showcase for utterly incredible stunt work. While everything was done with the utmost care and safety as was possible, it’s honestly a miracle that nobody actually died while making it. From a blocking and staging point of view, the camerawork is much like Miller’s Hippocratic proletariat past. The action’s up close and personal, fast, frenetic and almost always framed low to the ground. It became a Box Office Smash.

Often cited as one of the greatest sequels of all time, Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981), does everything its predecessor did, but somehow does so even better. The world expands, the chases are breathtaking, and Mel Gibson reprises one of his career best roles here as Max Rockatansky (great name). It also has a precocious child character called “The Feral Kid”, as you’d expect, runs around with a metal boomerang. Said precocious kid at one point kills a bad guy by chucking it hard into the villain’s forehead. Yeah, this movie rules.

Rod Serling was an absolute genius in his time. Frankly, The Twilight Zone walked-- so that Black Mirror could run. Along with the likes of directorial giants, Steven Spielberg, John Landis and Joe Dante, Miller then lent his massive talents in directing a portion of Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983). Miller remade my personal favourite Twilight Zone episode: Nightmare At 20,000 Feet. The original episode directed by Richard Donner and starring William Shatter, aired in 1 963.

Miller’s remake is an excellent exercise in pure abject terror, with a great performance from the always reliable, John Lithgow. The episode is so popular in the cultural zeitgeist, that it was remade a second time in Jordan Peele’s rebooted Twilight Zone (2019-2020), but this time with another one of my favourite actors, Adam Scott. This third iteration takes the terror to even higher highs with “Nightmare At 30,000 Feet”.

Widely considered as the low point in the original Mad Max Trilogy, Beyond Thunderdome (1985) is one half awesome and the other half-- painfully boring. The idea of Mel Gibson wearing a prototypical William Wallace wig, a whole decade before he’d fight for Scotland in Braveheart (1995) -- as a lone gunslinger here in a post-apocalypse sounds great, right? Always the brilliant stylist, Miller ensures that the production design for Barter Town is brilliant, complex and utterly lived in.

Tina Turner is faultless as Aunty Entity. The duel between Max and Blaster in the Thunderdome is both balletic and brutal. Then the rest of the movie happens. Watching Max wander the desert and randomly become a relative god to a tribe of lost children feels like a completely different movie. Things pick up again in the last thirty minutes as a quasi-testing ground for another Mad Max flick to come, but not one for another three decades.

Miller’s next two pictures in his cinematic oeuvre were both films I’d never actually seen before this marathon. The Witches of Eastwick (1987) stars Cher, Susan Sarandon and Michelle Pfeiffer, respectively, as a trio of women banding together to stop a villainous man who’s essentially The Devil incarnate. Played of course, to devilishly perfection by Jack Nicholson. Eastwick was right up my alley from its opening moments and held sway over me for its entirety. The dialogue is whip-smart and brilliantly clever, both special eYects and visual effects still hold up incredibly well.

Also, it must be said, Veronica Cartwright delivers an utterly go-for-broke performance here. One that takes up literally her entire mind, body and soul-- as a possessed churchgoer foretelling doom to the small-town masses. A la, Cassandra’s futuristic fatal fears, falling on deaf ears within the seemingly impenetrable gates of Troy.

Literally all I knew about Lorenzo’s Oil (1992) before watching it, was the punchline to the name of Jason Bateman’s character that’s revealed at the very end of the stoner-bro sci-fi comedy, Paul (2011). What’s his name? Agent Lorenzo Zoil. Alright, so I’m assuming that joke will have some real relevance and create an even greater understanding for the Seth Rogen alien road trip comedy, upon having actually seen the movie that the super random punchline was taken from. Short answer, nope. Not at all. Lorenzo’s Oil is a heart-wrenching drama based on a true story. It’s a very, very hard movie to watch, but one that’s also very, very worthwhile in the end.

I love it when directors work with the same actors throughout their careers on different projects. Sarandon returns here as a mother with nothing but single-minded determination and resiliency in finding a cure for her child’s utterly debilitating sickness. Never thought I’d hear Nick Nolte speak Italian/have an Italian accent, but I loved it. Also, I’ll never look at olive oil the same way again. Brace yourself, it’s a rough watch for all the right reasons.

I don’t care what anyone says, I’ll take real animals and/or incredible puppeteering of old days long gone of yore, over the modern supposed CGI “realism” of today. While Miller didn’t direct Babe (1995), he did write and produce it. The story is charming, whimsical, clever, endearing and full of heart. A movie I hadn’t seen in over twenty years but brought me right back to my childhood. A great family film for the entire family, and a far better family film than pretty much anything out there being made today. Real talk.

Miller did step back into the director’s chair for the criminally underrated sequel, Babe: Pig in the City (1998). It’s full of heart, humor, humanity, absolutely incredible production design and a third act that’s so expertly crafted in both idea and execution, it’s a real wonder nobody talks about it today. Also hadn’t seen this one in two decades either. Must be noted, Miller’s second pig-picture has maybe the absolute funniest last twenty minutes of possibly any movie-- ever?

If you want to watch two excellent family films with incredible visuals about adorable talking animals, then watch the ones with the talking pig. Even though Happy Feet (2006) has its moments of heart and charm, and underdog-beat-out Pixar for that year’s Best Animated Feature Film, it doesn’t honestly hold up all that well. I hate to use the word “boring”, but the adventures of Mumbles and his spastic feet is admittedly very, very boring. Pro-tip: smoke the most weed you’ve ever smoked in your entire life before putting it on. And then smoke some more. You’ll thank me later.

Happy Feet Two (2011), is pretty well much of the same as the first. Now Mumble’s all grown up, and as a parent just wants his adorable young son, Eric, to also be able to fit into their community of penguins. Generally considered the lowest point of Miller’s career, HF2 has moments of charm to be sure, and certainly sporadic spurts of clever genius. Any moment where Will the Krill and Bill the Krill show up, voiced by Brad Pitt and Matt Damon, respectively, the movie is a ton of fun. Any and every dad-approved krill pun possible, is put to the very test. Miller as an auteur, is truly—one in a krillion. Fast-forward through everything else.

Thirty-six years after Miller changed the Australian film scene with the first Mad Max, he delivered the long-awaited fourth film in the franchise. One, which was a total labour of love, that had its own share of challenges. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) is not only one of the best action films of the last decade, but it’s also one of the best action films ever made. Period. Full stop. Gibson may be gone, but Tom Hardy more than delivers the angry goods, as a newer version of Max Rockatansky, for an entirely new generation.

The film is a nonstop visual treat for the eyes and ears. With a seamless mixture of practical and visual effects, Fury Road is a two-hour cold, hard, punch in the face. Also, you get major bonus points from me by reading Blood, Sweat Chrome: The Wild and True Story of Mad Max Fury Road about the making of the film, from the mouths of those who were there. All excellently collated together by author by Kyle Buchanan.

Being shot and released in the midst of The Pandemic probably didn’t do Three Thousand Years of Longing (2022) any kinda favours. A late-stage Miller joint that sadly seems to have fallen through the cracks. It’s a brilliant chamber piece two-hander between powerhouses Tilda Swinton and Idris Elba. If the idea of Swinton playing a narratologist stuck in a fancy-pants hotel room with Elba, a djinn, long trapped and beholden to granting her three wishes, doesn’t sound like a great movie on its own, then I don’t know what to tell you. Add on top of that-- a very clever meta narrative, of a story within a story, within a story. Pure cinema.

All roads lead back to The Green Place. Due to the absolutely deserved praise for Charlize Theron’s incredible performance as Imperator Furiosa in Fury Road, Miller went back to the Mad-Max well for a fifth time. Granted, it took another nine years to get there. And hopefully not the last. Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga (2024) tells the prequel story of a younger Furiosa, played this time by Anya Taylor-Joy. It’s fast, furious, epic, emotional, hyper-stylized, operatic, visually dazzling, and very smart summer entertainment, that’s easily one of the best films of the year. Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention how great Chris Hemsworth is, as the film’s chief antagonist, Dementus. I love how great Miller is at coming up with awesome character names. I’m also admittedly preferentially partial to any movie wherein a character sports an absurdly large comic-bookie-style fake nose. So, there’s that too.

At the impressive and greatly experienced age of 79, George Miller thankfully shows no apparent signs of slowing down. And I for one-- am totally here for it. I mean, how could he possibly slow down? He did birth Mad Max, after all.


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