Greetings from the apocalypse! You might think that this particular Mad Max would enjoy watching Tom Cruise fight evil robots in a future nuclear-blasted wasteland, but NOPE! "Oblivion" is a dud, though that doesn't mean we can't make it through the next few days as long as we stick together and don't cross the DMZ. Smoke 'em if ya got 'em, troops, we're goin' in …
Friday, April 19
POW! IN THEATERS
Xenu's own Tom Cruise returns to comfortable sci-fi territory this week with "Oblivion," which I will henceforth refer to as "The Matrix Redressed." Cruise is the only living boy in post-apocalyptic New York, where he and a stuffy British chick (Andrea Riseborough, natch) maintain giant water vacuums when they're not having PG-13 swimming pool sex … that is, until the mysterious Olga Kurylenko arrives from outer space. Ostensibly a parable on the nature of free will with a few "shocking" curveballs, it's a silly hodgepodge of at least a dozen other, better sci-fi movies from "2001: A Space Odyssey" to "Moon" to "Planet of the Apes." Director Joseph Kosinski (he of the other $150-million-dollar screensaver "TRON: Legacy") thinks so little of his audience he stops everything dead THREE TIMES to recap all that preceded. Also, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau has to wear "Road Warrior" reject armor, Morgan Freeman sports a Darth Vader mask and stuntwoman/ good actress Zoë Bell says and does nothing. Way to pool your resources, Kosinski.
NETFLIX RECOMMENDS WITH A VENGEANCE
If you want to hit a solid post-apocalyptic loner groove, then ditch "Oblivion" and spend a nice, quiet afternoon with Vincent Price as "The Last Man on Earth" via Netflix Instant, this week's most excellent "Survivor of Thunderdome." This is the first version of Richard Matheson's book "I Am Legend," which later became a Chuck Heston ("The Omega Man") and Will Smith joint, respectively, although none of them have gotten it quite right. Believe it or not, this black and white cheapie from 1964 comes the closest to capturing the stark desperation of a man who survived the plague that turned everyone except him into bloodthirsty creatures of the night. It'll have to hold us over until the inevitable fourth version starring a grizzled Taylor Lautner in 2024.
PAY CHANNEL PAYBACK
In the wake of personal scandal that Tom Terrific went through in the middle of the last decade, what better way for Cruise to prove he was on the level than by trying to kill Hitler for us in 2008's "Valkyrie," tonight at 5 p.m. on Showtime. Bryan Singer orchestrates an all-star cast of upstanding Brits (Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Terence Stamp) around Cruise as real-life hero Claus von Stauffenberg, a German officer who plotted to off ol' Uncle Adolf a full nine months before he and Eva Braun did the deed themselves. A nifty historical nugget, it proves that you can know the outcome of a story and still be pissing yourself in suspense.
Prepare to put yourself in a New York state of mind this week with Robert De Niro's world famous Tribeca Film Festival from April 17-28. Besides screenings of indie films like "Before Midnight," "Adult World," "Almost Christmas," and "Prince Avalanche," some of this weekend's highlights include a free outdoor screening of Tim Burton's "Beetlejuice" tonight at 8:15 p.m. in World Financial Center Plaza, and a talk with Ben Stiller and Jay Roach on Sunday at 3 p.m. If Tribeca is too snooty for your taste, then revel in the grindhouse glory of the Old School Kung-Fu Fest (today through Sunday) at New York's Anthology Film Archives, where '70s classics starring the likes of Gordon Liu ("Shaolin and Wu-Tang") or Law Kei ("The Dragon Lives Again") will divulge exactly where The RZA steals all his dialogue samples from.
Saturday, April 20 (4/20, BABY!)
POW! IN THEATERS
FOUR-TWENTY! FOUR-TWENTY! All my stoner homies know no one delivers unwieldy blood-soaked mayhem quite like Rob Zombie. The grunge god returns from the dreck of two "Halloween" movies with his own original great American nightmare "The Lords of Salem," starring (surprise!) his hot wife Sheri Moon Zombie as a dreadlocked local radio DJ who plays a song by what she thinks is an indie band but turns out to be spirits of the film's witchy Massachusetts namesake … or something like that. The trailers promise lots of trademark Zombie weirdness coupled with his newfound fondness for Kubrickian art house compositions.
Speaking of broomstick jockeys, why not turn to a seminal entry in the witch genre that doesn't involve Quidditch: a grainy print of 1972's "Season of the Witch" on Hulu fo free yo. George Romero's attempt to reinvigorate the witch genre is neither as revolutionary as his "Night of the Living Dead" was for zombies nor as slick as his later work. "Season" is an intriguing if poorly-acted curiosity revolving around a bored middle-aged housewife (Jan White) who goes from square to slightly less square when she begins dabbling in witchcraft in order to lure a young buck into the sack … and yes, it does feature the Donovan song, so stop asking.
Everyone knows that if you're going to see a Rob Zombie movie you have to extensively read up on his subjects … JUST KIDDING! His movies are totally redneck-friendly, but if you are inclined to learn a little more about the nearly two dozen witch executions that took place in puritanical New England then look no further than an old episode of "In Search of History" about the Salem Witch Trials in its entirety on YouTube. Bible thumping hysteria in the early 1690s inspired a frenzy of false accusations, arrests, hangings and eventually the Daniel Day-Lewis/Winona Ryder version of "The Crucible." Horror upon horror.
BASIC CABLE BLUES
Cap off a delicious night of terror as TCM hosts a demonic double feature of classic drive-in fare: "Burn, Witch, Burn" (1962, also on Netflix Instant) at 2:15 a.m. and "The Devil's Own" (a.k.a. "The Witches," 1966) at 4 a.m. Clearly incited by "The Lords of Salem," this lineup is perfect fodder for fans of old school B-movies, with "Burn" detailing an ignorant husband's rejection of his wife's occult activities, while Hammer Studios' "Devil's" involves an innocent missionary school teacher (Joan Fontaine, in her final role) who gets swept up in witchy dealings in both Africa and England.
Sunday, April 21
BASIC CABLE BLUES
Sunday is a good day for a couple of overlooked comedies, so let's kick off this parade of shenanigans with "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story" at 12:15 p.m. on Comedy Central. Comedic impresario Judd Apatow produced and co-wrote this insanely funny riff on musician biopics (specifically "Walk the Line" and maybe a little "Great Balls of Fire") and the laughs-per-minute ratio owes less to improv-a-thons like "Knocked Up" and more to Apatow's early parody work for TV ("In Living Color," "The Ben Stiller Show"). John C. Reilly plays his Johnny Cash-stand-in with doofy charm and fantastic lyrics like "In my dreams you're blowing me … some kisses." Stay tuned as Jonah Hill teaches you how impossible it is to masturbate with a ghost hand.
PAY CHANNEL PAYBACK
Steven Spielberg has had more blockbusters than anyone in film history, and "1941" isn't one of them, but it is on IFC at 5 p.m. His 1979 comedy spectacular about an attempted Japanese invasion of Hollywood saw the "Jurassic Park" maestro pilfering the casts of "Saturday Night Live," "SCTV" and "Animal House" for the most overblown demolition derby your eyes have ever beheld. While it may have laid an egg at the box office, today's ADD-rattled sensibilities are perfectly attuned to soak up the full-on sensory bombardment Spielberg conducted. John Belushi hams it up and Dan Aykroyd speed-talks like the coke demon he was, while a Ferris wheel, a house and most of the west coast are exploded for your amusement. It's a blast, trust me.
This week the literary oceans have swept ashore two biographies destined for film lovers' bookshelves, starting with "The French Connection" and "The Exorcist" helmer William Friedkin's long-awaited tome "The Friedkin Connection: A Memoir," where he fills you in on the tortures of filming "Sorcerer" in the Dominican Republic and perhaps why he hasn't made a masterpiece since. My more horror-inclined readers will no doubt be clamoring for tales of the late "Peter Cushing: A Life in Film," which chronicles England's most celebrated genre thesp, as well as being the big baddie in "Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope" and bearer of the pointiest cheek bones in world history.
As I ride off into the distant horizon, here's wishing you fellow weekend road warriors the best outing possible from this burnt-out, blighted wasteland. Enjoy your fast Internet, clean-ish movie theaters, plentiful gasoline and all the comforts of home, for this world lives now only in my memories …