Tag Archives: George Miller

CAPSULE: BABE: PIG IN THE CITY (1998)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: E.G. Daily (voice), Magda Szubanski, Mickey Rooney, James Cromwell

PLOT: After the porcine Babe accidentally injures Farmer Hoggett, Mrs. Hoggett (Szubanski) takes over the family farm, which immediately begins losing money. Desperate, she takes Babe to the big city for another shepherding contest (like the one that ended the first film), but the duo find more than they bargained for, including an elaborate hotel populated almost exclusively by animals.

Still from Babe: Pig in the City (1998)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: While it’s definitely louder and more chaotic than the gentle original, this enjoyable sequel certainly doesn’t deserve its reputation as a bizarre miscalculation. If this website were about the 366 weirdest family films, Babe 2 might get on that list.

COMMENTS: Unlike the beloved, Oscar-nominated Babe, Babe: Pig in the City was a gigantic box-office flop, at least in the U.S. Reviews were mixed to negative (mostly negative), with the notable exception of Siskel and Ebert, who both lavished the production with praise. Audiences stayed home in droves, as they say, and the picture was D.O.A. from the first weekend. Everyone seemed to feel that the movie was too dark and sinister, and, watching the film now, one is struck by the fact that director George “Mad Max” Miller  does indeed direct the action as if he were still doing The Road Warrior, with plenty of looming close-ups shot with a fish-eyed lens and a frenetic, restless camera. There are lots of weirdness-for-the-sake-of-weirdness touches, like the way that Mickey Rooney (who never speaks) always looks as if he was interrupted in the middle of dinner and forgot to wipe his mouth. The “big city” is positively fanciful, featuring the Statue of Liberty, the Eiffel Tower and the Sydney Opera House all in one town; it’s an overload of visual invention, unlike the placid, bucolic setting of the original Babe. And James Cromwell is almost MIA, showing up at only the beginning and the end.

But Babe: Pig in the City is hardly the nightmare that it’s been made out to be. Doesn’t anyone remember the frights in The Wizard of Oz, Willy Wonka, or most of the Disney classics? In the original Babe there is a scene where Farmer Hoggett aims a gun right into the pig’s face, intending to turn him into bacon; it’s still rather startling, so the more jarring moments in the sequel, as when Babe is chased by a snarling dog, shouldn’t be that surprising. And this is one sequel, that, unlike so many others, tries to do something entirely different from the original.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…scattered reports of the sequel taking on a Fellini-esque quality that wouldn’t translate to the masses proved utterly groundless… Miller and his army of technicians and animal specialists invent crazy quilt contraptions that spin off in weird trajectories when set in motion.”–Leonard Klady, Variety (contemporaneous)

EAKER VS. EAKER AT THE SUMMER BLOCKBUSTERS: MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015)

366WeirdMovies.com Proudly, or Not So Proudly, Presents: Eaker vs. Eaker

Aja and Alfred 366Eaker vs. Eaker is the latest “send Alfred to the summer blockbuster movies so that he can curmudgeonly complain” event, but with a twist, cinema fans and friends! For the first time (without even knowing it), you voted to send Alfred and his wife, Aja, to the flicks and have them duke it out, publicly, about each so-called-blockbuster. Everybody here knows all about Alfred’s cinematic savvy, and his cranky-old-dog approach to film critique. Now, you get 2-for-1: Aja is Alfred’s beloved clinical and counseling psychologist partner, who loves to counter just about every cinematic point Alfred makes. And you, kind reader, chose to send us first to Mad Max: Fury Road.

Aja: Ladies first, shall we? Lets.

“What is this thing?” I asked, reluctantly glancing at the poll that sealed our afternoon’s fate.

“Well, dear, they have voted to send us to Mad Max first.”

“Who bestowed this power? Jesus.” I shot Alfred an incredulous smirk. I counted the tallies again. “This is rigged,” I bemoaned.

“Actually, the critics are giving it rave ratings, so who knows?”

This did nothing for my internal motivation to pay money to see this.

On the other hand, it meant spending more time with Alfred, and there was a good chance that we would end up with interlaced fingers for two hours, so okay. “You are going to have to fold the laundry as penance for this,” I plainly announced, “You know, for putting us in this position.”

With his left eyebrow raised in mock indignation, Alfred nodded once and quickly retorted, “I do love and fear my wife,” smiling, “it starts at 4:50pm, and just as consolation, critics are proclaiming it to be highly feminist.” Part of what is so difficult about saying ‘no’ to Alfred is his adorableness. He is frankly beautiful, with long eyelashes and a perfect smile. It gets me every time. Alfred can talk me in or out of just about anything with that look and that flashed, crooked grin. I rolled my eyes like a bratty teen, put on my coat and grabbed the car keys.

“Let’s just get this over with,” I said, calmly and rationally.

“You might actually like it,” he said. Ignoring his verbal petting, I walked out into the rain toward the car.

First, let us set the scene: it was a rainy Friday afternoon and we stood in a long line to get matinee tickets—but since it was an opening day, we had to pay full price. It isn’t that I’m cheap, I’m just fiscally conscious, especially when it comes to the splurge of a movie theater visit. I’m definitely the type to stop at a gas station along the way, pick up Twix and a can of Coca-Cola, and smuggle in my snacks Continue reading EAKER VS. EAKER AT THE SUMMER BLOCKBUSTERS: MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015)

MAD MAX 2: THE ROAD WARRIOR (1981)

When watching ‘s Road Warrior (1981), one can glean, in hindsight, the extreme right-wing mythologizing seed of its lead actor (). Essentially, Max is an apocalyptic Christ of the desert highway. Like most prophetic characters, he is cartoonish and bland. His sought-after Ark Of The Covenant is petrol, and accompanying him is a canine apostle (what better follower can one have than man’s best friend?)

Miller, fresh off the low budget prequel Mad Max (1979), crafts Road Warrior as a film of infinite stamina; a kind of Jack Chick post-holocaust tribulation on wheels.  He went on to direct a second sequel in 1985, Beyond Thunderdome, which was not quite the cult hit Road Warrior was, despite some critics’ declaring the third entry as the best of the lot. Not having seen it, I am not at liberty to comment, but I suspect Miller’s best works to date are his segment of the Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983), which was unquestionably the highlight in that woefully uneven production, along with Babe: Pig In The City (1998).

One of the surprisingly refreshing elements of Road Warrior is a  romance that never materializes (but then, Mel’s macho Christ-like character does have to remain celibate). Of course, Max is just too preoccupied for love, speeding down his existential, two-lane blacktop highway. Temptation of the flesh is hardly his only potential distraction. Rabid, gnostic-styled motorcyclists add to the adolescent S & M milieu.

Miller compared Road Warrior to ‘s The General (1926). That comparison might very well be apt, but despite revisionist assessments, that earlier film, as beautiful and classic as it is, does not have the sustained brilliance of Keaton’s best work. Like The General, at 95 minutes, Road Warrior simply goes on too long.

Still from Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)Road Warrior is chock-full of dazzling imagery and the thrills leave you in a state of dismal breathlessness, but after the credits roll, the bleak sentimentality begins to seep in and the film evaporates rather quickly.

Miller succeeds most when dousing Road Warrior in B-movie sauce. If Miller had maintained the pulpy Death Race 2000 flavor, the movie might have been more memorable (and certainly would have been more enjoyable). Unfortunately, the director stretches himself too thin when he missteps by channeling all that symbolic folklore. Like George Stevens’ Shane, Miller is simply too self-conscious in his puffed-up myth making. Max, like Shane and Jesus Christ, takes on antagonists that outsize and outnumber him. It did not work Shane (1953). Nor does it work here.

CAPSULE: MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME (1985)

DIRECTED BY:  George Miller, George Ogilvie

FEATURING: Mel Gibson, Tina Turner

PLOT:  Loner and reluctant hero Mad Max wanders out of the desert and into a crossroads

Still from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome

of post-apocalyptic vice known as Bartertown, and later discovers a colony of innocent children in a peaceful oasis who believe him to be a messiah.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  If costuming alone could earn a film a place on the list of the 366 weirdest films of all time, then Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome‘s raggedy punk centurions and Tina Turner’s post-aerobic post-apocalyptic fashions would easily qualify it.  Thunderdome is also the weirdest of the Mad Max series because of its emphasis on new post-civilization rituals: for example, the bizarre legal system of Bartertown, administered by a philosophical hunchback Magistrate of Ceremonies, where tort disputes are resolved by gladiatorial battles and a breach of contract results in a random punishment spun from a wheel of fortune.  But, even though Thunderdome is the oddest of the trilogy, it’s still basically just a creative Western dressed up with sci-fi trappings; it’s weird by summer blockbuster standards, but fails to sneak across the mass appeal genre-piece border.

COMMENTS:  The “Mad Max” series was the most inventive sci-fi/action hybrid of the 1980s, one which sparked a brief but fun post-apocalyptic cycle (which produced a few genuinely weird low-budget Mad Max knockoffs).  Each Mad Max film inhabited the same fascinating universe, a world of scarce resources, shaky alliances, and dying machines held together with spit and twine, but each was very different in tone.  All are recommended.  The original Mad Max was a dark, character-driven revenge drama that gained a cult following.  Mad Max 2, more commonly known as The Road Warrior, was a rollicking action piece that caught lightning in a bottle and inspired Hollywood to pump money into a sequel.  Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome was… well, it was what happens when the series gets a big head and tries to be a summer blockbuster.  The Tina Turner pop song that plays over the opening credits is shamelessly anachronistic and completely inappropriate for a Max movie, but it sets the tone of confused priorities that defines Thunderdome.  The movie flits uncomfortably between the exaggerated, radioactive Casablanca of Bartertown and the brave new Lord of the Flies meets Peter Pan world of the children’s tribe.  It’s also a movie that recycles and steals from other movies.  Popular elements from the Road Warrior are reused here.  The feral child has been transformed into an horde of tribal ragamuffins, Bruce Spence from Warrior reappears as a pilot (the character may be the same one from the previous movie; it’s never explained), and the finale is a shameless remake of Warrior‘s climax with a train substituting for the tanker.  There are also blatant references to Clint Eastwood spaghetti Westerns, and the children’s mangled language (“Time counts and keeps countin’, and we knows now finding the trick of what’s been and lost ain’t no easy ride”) is reminiscent of the made-up nasdat cant of A Clockwork Orange.  Maybe this reusing of old bits and pieces is appropriate in a movie about an emerging society being built on the ruins of another.  The overall effect is a movie that’s jumbled and uncentered, more than a bit loopy, but still lots of fun.  That overall goofiness, combined with the unique ramshackle look of the punk-barbarian world nearly, but not quite, tilts Thunderdome into the weird zone.

Rumors of a fourth Max movie have been circulating for over twenty years now, and continue as strong as ever.  I wouldn’t hold my breath.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a movie that strains at the leash of the possible, a movie of great visionary wonders.”–Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun Times (contemporaneous)