The first postapocalyptic vision remains the best. May 25, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 35 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
One Friday evening in 1980, I journeyed to the far West Side of Chicago to a drive-in on Cicero Avenue and attended what may have been the strangest double feature in the history of the world. The top of the bill was The Gong Show Movie, a film written by, directed by, and starring Chuck Barris, the host of the TV show of the same name. The B-picture was something called Mad Max. And so, sitting in my 1970 Chevy Chevelle, I found myself watching, seriatim, one of the worst movies ever made—for the The Gong Show Movie was irredeemably terrible in a way few things ever are—and one of the most sensational action pictures ever made.
Written and directed by an emergency-room doctor named George Miller, Mad Max portrays a depopulated Australia cut off from oil and rapidly descending into a state of nature as gangs seek to corner the market on the suddenly scarce resource that made society run.
One good cop, a young husband and father named Max, tries to restore law and order, but when his wife and son are killed by a gang of gasoline-obsessed crazies, he hunts them down until he finally finds the leader and cuffs his ankle to a car about to catch fire. Max explains that it will take 10 minutes to saw through the handcuffs but only 5 minutes to saw through his own ankle—and the car will explode in less than 10. Then he walks away as the bad guy screams. Roll credits.
Miller drew on the twin anxieties of the civilized world in the late 1970s to give his movie startling resonance: the fear caused by the leap in urban crime in every democratic society, and the fear of Arab and Persian oil power, which had led to an embargo in 1973 that tripled the price of gasoline and to a cutoff of supply following the fall of the shah in Iran.
Miller’s inexhaustible invention was evident from the way he figured out how to use the emptiness of the Australian continent to convey the breakdown of order—giving the movie the combined pace of an action thriller and intensity of a horror movie and allowing him to make Mad Max for next to nothing.
There would be two sequels over the next few years: The Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome. Miller had a lot more money to play with, and he created entire postapocalyptic societies for us to see through the eyes of Mel Gibson’s Max—who became the successor to Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name character from the 1960s spaghetti westerns. There’s no question that The Road Warrior in particular was enormously influential, spawning hundreds of life-after-the-end-of-civilization movies in dozens of languages over the subsequent decades.
But the epic scale of The Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome makes them seem silly in a way Mad Max never is. In addition, Miller turned out to have an unfortunate Jungian streak, and so his movies are shot through with archetypal self-seriousness of the sort peddled so successfully in the 1980s by ersatz wise man Joseph Campbell.
Now, three decades later, Miller has brought forth Mad Max: Fury Road. There’s a new Max (Tom Hardy), and unlike the old one, who was “mad” in the sense of “angry,” this one is “mad” in the sense of “crazy.” And so is the movie. It’s nuts. It’s bananas. It’s got the most advanced case of ADHD in motion-picture history. It makes the hyperactive Road Warrior look like security-camera footage from the lobby of a Mormon temple.
This is kind of an alt-version of the original story, since we’re now 75 years into a postapocalyptic world that has resulted not from an oil shortage but from a global thermonuclear war. Max is taken captive at the beginning of the movie by a vicious warlord who is mostly sealed in plastic to hide his radiation sores. The movie’s opening scenes at the warlord’s citadel offer a genuinely startling vision of hell on earth. The warlord’s army is made up of hairless, white-skinned teenagers whose bodies are racked with cancerous tumors. Max becomes a “blood bag” for one of these kids, meaning that the kid is kept alive and strong through a direct transfusion from Max’s veins into his.
When the superheroes join forces, it’s time to head for the hills.May 18, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 34 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
Offering an opinion of Avengers: Age of Ultron is like reviewing Chex Mix. According to what stand-ard should one judge this mixture of breakfast cereal and pretzels and croutons and salt? Even if you find it bland or uninteresting you’ll probably have a few handfuls anyway. And if you love it, you love it uncritically and unreservedly—until, perhaps, you eat too much of it and then feel a little sick.
The camera as chronicler of marital deadlock.
May 11, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 33 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
There are several key shots in movies—the visual strategies directors and cinematographers and editors use to establish scene, mood, movement, and dramatic tension, guiding the viewer’s eye to important information.
Liam Neeson in action is worth watching. But for how long?Mar 30, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 28 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
Run All Night is unquestionably the best of the seemingly endless series of thrillers Liam Neeson has made since 2008’s Taken made him a most unlikely action star at the age of 56. And yet, rather than being celebrated for rising above the others, Run All Night has been received so poorly by moviegoers one must now presume that Neeson’s surprising later-in-life dash through the international box office as one of the cinema’s most reliable money-makers is nearing its end.
How much longer for pleasant, diversionary cinema? Mar 16, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 26 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
There should be movies like Focus every week. It’s a stylish and amusing film with glamorous actors, memorable supporting players, lush settings, and lots of twists and turns. Will Smith plays a successful con artist who chisels people all over the world. He’s amused when a two-bit newbie played by Margot Robbie tries to run a hustle on him—amused and also powerfully attracted, because Margot Robbie may be the most beautiful woman to grace the screen since the 1960s heyday of Natalie Wood and Julie Christie.
Including the virtue of keeping a straight faceMar 2, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 24 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
When I tell you that, in my opinion, the three novels now known as the Fifty Shades Trilogy are the worst books I have ever read all the way through, I am not telling you anything interesting. To criticize E. L. James’s publishing version of winning the Irish Sweepstakes is to attack a cultural phenomenon entirely beyond the reach of criticism. These three books, originally published as a series of posts on a fan-fiction website, ended up earning their author $95 million in a single year.
A musical love story finds its mediumFeb 23, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 23 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
I don’t remember when I have been more deeply affected by a film than I was by The Last Five Years, a jewel box of a movie-musical that is unquestionably the best of its kind since Chicago was released in 2003. It is at once a tiny slip of a thing and an emotional blockbuster. Over the course of a brisk 90 minutes, The Last Five Years provides an exhilarating and devastating account of the relationship between a successful young writer and an unsuccessful young actress.
A grim, epic allegory of Putin’s RussiaFeb 9, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 21 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
The director of the new Russian movie Leviathan now lives in Canada. This was a wise decision on Andrey Zvyagintsev’s part—because even though Leviathan received grants from the Russian government and was officially selected to represent the country in this year’s Oscar race, at some point in the near future, Zvyagintsev’s career and maybe his life won’t be worth a plugged kopek in his homeland.
One man, one war, and the cost of serviceFeb 2, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 20 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
The overwhelming American Sniper is cast in shadow from start to finish by two real-world tragedies, one very broad and one very precise. The first is the irresolution of the Iraq war, the conflict to which the film’s titular character—Navy SEAL Christopher Kyle—was deployed four times. The second is the 2013 murder of Kyle at the hands of a disturbed veteran he was trying to help. As a result of these tragedies, the movie that tells their stories is haunted and grave.
Is the Alan Turing seen here the Alan Turing who was? Jan 26, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 19 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
The Imitation Game is the fanciest ABC Afterschool Special ever made: It takes the inspiring, mystifying, and upsetting life story of a great genius and turns it into a didactic and banal lesson about how people who are “different” are also very, very special.
When a historical drama is devoid of dramaJan 19, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 18 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
The marketing genius of movies like Selma, the highly praised docudrama about the march in Alabama that triggered the 1965 Voting Rights Act, is that they simultaneously confuse and intimidate critics and audiences by making them feel as though it would be an act of disrespect to speak anything but words of praise for the way they depict life-and-death historical events of great moral moment.
The biblical saga gets an up-to-the-minute adaptationDec 29, 2014, Vol. 20, No. 16 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
Raise your hand if you want to see Moses portrayed as an insurgent lunatic terrorist with a bad conscience, the pharaoh who sought the murder of all first-born Hebrew slaves as a nice and reasonable fellow, and God as a foul-tempered 11-year-old boy with an English accent.
A weird, tragic, compelling tale tainted by politicsDec 15, 2014, Vol. 20, No. 14 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
Foxcatcher is a slow, gripping, fact-based movie about a bizarre and lonely heir to the Du Pont fortune whose obsession with the sport of wrestling eventually led him to commit a pointless and vicious murder. What makes Foxcatcher compelling is that its story, its setting, and its characters are so odd, so singular, so unlike anything we’ve seen before.
I’m OK, you’re OK, and you’re entitled to your opinionNov 3, 2014, Vol. 20, No. 08 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
If you go see the universally praised Birdman, the story of an over-the-hill film star trying to make a comeback by starring in a Broadway play, I hope you enjoy yourself. I really do. That’s what movies are for—to provide enjoyment, a few hours of diversion. Genuine art transcends that shallow goal.