I don’t know when you last checked your Mayan calendar, but if you haven’t heard this big beautiful blue ball we all call home is going kaput next week. That’s right folks, Armageddon is upon us, so the time has come to stock up on canned foods and twinkies. I mean, what are the chances that an ancient civilization that enjoyed decapitation-packed sacrificial ceremonies could possibly be wrong? To celebrate our last week of existence, the good folks at the TIFF Bell Lightbox have programmed a series of screenings called Countdown To Armageddon as a handy dandy guide to what the future holds for humanity. Even though we here at Dork Shelf are fairly confident December 21st will pass without a hail of smoldering rocks from the sky, there’s no denying that the end of the world makes for damn fine big screen entertainment. So, here’s a look at the apocalyptic classics that will screen over the next seven days as a welcome alternative to Christmas-themed programming. Who needs Rudolf when you can watch Mad Max take out a bondage gang in the desert? Right?
Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Friday, December 14, 6:30pm
What a place to start. Apocalypse movies (or movies in general) just don’t get much better than this. Back during the height of the cold war, when class rooms preached the guaranteed safety of “duck and cover” and the Cuban missile crisis promised imminent nuclear warfare, most of the world was freaking out over the bomb. Not Stanley Kubrick. Instead, he decided that atomic age fears were a nice n’ wholesome source for laughs. So, he went and made this black comedy masterpiece about a bodily fluids obsessed general taking advantage of his power to force a plane piloted by Slim Pickens to drop the first nuke on Russia. What follows is a cripplingly funny comedy of errors filled with delightful pun names (Buck Turgidson, Merkin Muffley, etc.), vividly staged combat, George C. Scott pulling pratfalls, Peter Sellers in no less than three of his finest roles, and a serene montage of mushroom clouds. As with seemingly every film genre, nobody does big screen satire better than Kubrick. This is one of those movies that you simply have to see before you die, so I suppose now is the perfect time.
Saturday, December 15, 7:00pm
Imagine a world so obsessed with youth and beauty that everyone must be killed before 30. Nope, this isn’t a new reality series. It’s the cult sci-fi yarn Logan’s Run that boasts that magical combination of cheesy sets, themed jump suits, and cynical dread that only 70s sci-fi could provide. Through in a delightfully stuffy turn from Michael York in the lead role and you’ve got yourself a classic. See the movie now because even if it’s not erased from existence next week, the legacy could very well be sullied by an upcoming Ryan Gosling remake.
Lars Von Trier
Sunday, December 16, 9:30pm
Who better than tell the story of the end of the world than a filmmaker who takes more joy in bumming out his audience than any other? I’m talkin’ bout ironic Nazi sympathizer Lars Von Trier, who cranked out this masterpiece of misery last year and sadly never got the credit he deserved thanks to the Cannes controversy. What those unfortunate comments overshadowed was an emotionally wrenching 2-part film that opens with a 70-minute dark wedding comedy that rips apart family values with the smirking glee of the Dogme classic Festen and concludes with a second mini-feature starring the same characters as a planet called Melancholia comes hurtling towards earth. Kristin Dunst gives a performance far better than any one could have expected as the world’s most depressed beautiful 20something success and Von Trier twists it all into a bizarre moral that seems to suggest the clinically depressed are the most rational people to be around when Armageddon comes a calling. If nothing else, this movie is guaranteed to put you into enough of an emotional stupor to actually accept the impending apocalypse, so if all goes according to the Mayan plan, I guess TIFF screening this movie qualifies as somewhat of a public service.
Children of Men
Monday, December 17, 9:15pm
Adored at the time before promptly being forgotten, Alfonso Cuaron’s masterfully crafted dystopian adventure was one of the finest films to slip out of the 2000s. Set in a world that has become mysteriously infertile, Clive Owen embarks on a trek across the ravaged countryside to take the last pregnant woman to possible salvation. Shot in a series of mind-boggling single takes that are as immersive as they are show-offy, Cuaron crafts one hell of an action flick without ever losing sight of the prickly social commentary inherent in the material. Children of Men is one of the great science fiction films of its time and an incredible technical accomplishment designed to be projected on the biggest screens available. Plus Michael Caine plays a pot smoking, Radiohead-obsessed hippie. So, you can’t miss that.
Tuesday, December 18, 9:00pm
Whoo-boy! Now we’re talking. How do you even describe a problem like Zardoz? At some point while he was basking in the overwhelming swell of deserved praise that was slathered onto Deliverance, John Boorman clearly went insane. He dreamed up this absolutely batshit nuts sci-fi headscratcher/indeliberate comedy and since it was the era of the 70s auteur, he actually got to make it. I won’t even attempt to describe what Zardoz is about and I’d imagine Boorman would have a hard time doing so as well. It’s something to do with a dystopian future comprised of bored immortals and Scottish savages that features floating heads (actual line delivered by said floating head: “The gun is good, the penis is bad”), bonehead philosophy, misplaced psychedelics, awkward sexuality, and of course, Sean Connery in a red diaper. This is one of those movies that you really have to see just to confirm that it actually happened. Hundreds of people worked twelve hour days to make sure Zardoz existed. It’s your cinematic duty to laugh your ass off at the mess they misguidedly created. The only thing better than getting to see Zardoz on the big screen would be if Boorman showed up to try and explain what the hell he was thinking. That won’t be happening though, so you’ll just have to hurt your brain trying to figure it out for yourself.
The Quiet Earth
Wednesday, December 19, 9:00pm
Not nearly as widely known as the other films of this series, The Quiet Earth is a perpetually underrated cult classic that desperately deserves more attention. Bruno Lawrence stars as a man who seems to be the last living resident on earth. He hilariously lives his days wandering the lonely streets, breaking into houses, and living out bizarre fantasies. Remember the Simpsons Halloween special where Homer survived the apocalypse and danced naked in a church? It’s a less silly version of that. Eventually, he may or may not discover he’s not alone in a rather brilliant and subtly comedic apocalypse picture that could have been one of the greatest episodes of the Twilight Zone ever produced if it was made 20 years earlier, was shot in black and white, and was introduced by Rod Serling. Ok…so, that’s a stretch, but this is still a movie that you probably haven’t seen but need to shove in front of your eyeballs immediately.
Thursday, December 20, 9:00pm
If you’re going to hire a filmmaker to destroy the world with big fuck off asteroid, it might as well be Michael Bay. While other filmmakers might go a more sensible rout and have Morgan Freeman calmly explain the planet’s imminent doom to the audience, Bay went ahead and collected a motley crew of bad ass oil drillers (yes, that’s a thing) and shot them into space to blow up that asteroid real good. Blockbusters don’t get much more excessive than this, offering up hours CGI destruction, a solemnly tearful Bruce Willis, Aerosmith deliver the most powerful ballad ever written (I just burst in tears thinking it), and the finest use of Animal Crackers in the history of cinema. If you like trash, you love Armageddon. End of story.
Friday, December 21, 6:30pm
Finally, the last official night of planet earth shall be dedicated to a triple bill of apocalyptic bliss. First up is, rather appropriately, Don McKellar’s Last Night (aka one of the greatest Canadian films ever made). It takes place on the last day on earth, which everyone seems to have accepted with an eerie calm. Sure, there are riots on the streets, but most people clearly accepted the party was ending long ago and are quietly wrapping things up in style. Some fall in love, some are scratching sexual acts off of their bucket list, some are having family dinners, and some folks are just being neurotic (that would be McKellar). Last Night is an oddly sweet and hilarious vision of the most polite and Canadian apocalypse imaginable. It’s also so good that it’ll make you sad that McKellar has essentially retired from directing. At this point I’d write something urging him to get behind the camera again, but unless he can crank out a movie in a week, he’s not going to get a chance, now is he?
Reign of Fire
Friday, December 21, 9:00pm
A scorched post-apocalyptic earth. Christian Bale. Giant fucking dragons. Matthew McConaughey with a shaved head and a cigar. Nuff said.
The Road Warrior
Friday, December 21, 11:30pm
And last but far from least, if the world hasn’t ended by midnight on December 21st, you can celebrate by watching possibly the finest post-apocalypse movie of them all. Writer/director George Miller had already debuted his gearhead proto-Western hero Mad Max in a movie that thrilled drive-in audiences with zero-budget blood-soaked revenge, but it was his sequel The Road Warrior that was the instantly iconic action masterpiece. Miller’s tribal world of leather-bound sexually ambiguous nutcases and wandering warriors (with pet dogs to make them nice!) came out in full force in this film that has barely aged a day. Granted, it was made in a simpler time when it was still socially acceptable to support Mel Gibson’s career, so if you can get past being forced to identify with that gentleman, there’s still so much to love in the movie now. The villain proved hockey masks could represent pure evil while Jason was still wearing a burlap sack and the mind-boggling car chases/crashes were clearly made by renegade filmmakers unencumbered by safety regulations. If you haven’t seen this movie in a theater, you haven’t lived and now is the time to do just that. Plus, when you emerge from the theater fully aware that the world is still spinning, you can smile knowing that George Miller just spent a few months reviving this unique world with the role of Max passed off to the capable and seemingly non-racist hands of Tom Hardy. What a time to be alive…