Greetings from the apocalypse! This week the U.S. Postal Service announced they will no longer deliver mail on Saturdays, and if that isn't a sign of the impending end of days I don't know what is. Luckily my triple ball mace arrived today, so I will be able to defend myself, my faithful dog, and you from marauding motorcycle mutants looking to destroy the weekend and siphon all your gasoline. Got a full tank? Then drive through the barriers and roll out to the movies, soldier …
Friday, February 8
If Steven Soderbergh is gonna actually retire from making movies (not a BS Sean Penn "retirement") he's gonna go out with a bang, and his swan song "Side Effects" comes on the market this week for your viewing consumption. This tale of Hitchcockian intrigue within the pharmaceutical industry involves a young woman (Rooney Mara) who commits a murder while under the influence of experimental medication, but does the blame rest with her or her overzealous psychiatrist (Jude Law)? So far the reviews are pretty decent, and it offers another and indeed perhaps final dance between Soderbergh and his "Magic Mike" golden boy, Channing Tatum.
Those looking for Soderbergh's take on the illicit side of the drug world need look no further than his Oscar-winning "Traffic" on Netflix Instant. Cross-cutting three interlocked stories of corruption in both low and high society, it goes from the mean streets of Mexico with Benicio del Toro's honorable cop to the corridors of power in Washington under newly appointed drug czar Michael Douglas. Somewhere in-between a pregnant Catherine Zeta-Jones plots an assassination to keep her husband out of jail.
Some of you out there might be more interested in Channing Tatum than Soderbergh, so lucky for you his 2009 knockout bout "Fighting" is on Spike at 10:30 p.m. Tatum plays a hard luck case who comes under the wing of con man Harvey (Terrence Howard), who ushers him into the world of underground street fighting. I'll never forget visiting the set of this film as it shot on the streets of Midtown Manhattan in 2007, where an enthusiastic director Dito Montiel exclaimed, "Every time I meet Channing again I'm not a Channing Tatum fan until I start working with him, then I'm a Channing Tatum fan again. He's really good. Before we made the movie I was like, 'You just never know … it's a thin line between Marlon Brando and Dolph Lundgren.'"
Saturday, February 9
"I love the smell of un-deoderized nerds in the morning. It smells like … victory." Fanboys will pile into Irving Convention Center in Texas today and tomorrow for Sci-Fi Expo, a chance for vendors to hawk their various genre wares to at least 12 different guys dressed like Bane. Attendees can stand in massive lines to pay $25-to-$50 for an autograph from celebs like Edward James Olmos and William Sanderson ("Blade Runner"), Bruce Boxleitner and Cindy Morgan ("Tron"), Billy Boyd ("Lord of the Rings"), and a bunch of "Back to the Future" folk (Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, James Tolkan, Claudia Wells). Excelsior!
Speaking of smelling something a mile away, the weaksauce-looking comedy "Identity Thief" pratfalls its way to your local multiplex as a reminder that both Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy have better things coming out this year ("Arrested Development" and "The Heat," respectively). Bateman plays a guy who has to track down the rascally con artist who stole his identity and travel across the country with her, "Midnight Run"-style. To be fair, director Seth Gordon's previous outing with Bateman, "Horrible Bosses," also looked putrid but turned out to be sorta okay.
Something we need to be even more wary of than lame comedies are actual identity thieves, most of which are methamphetamine addicts. Check out this fascinating interview from Business Insider with a former identity thief named Sara who employed meth head zombies to steal mail in upstanding communities. "The best place to send a mail-boxer to is that place with the big sign on it that says 'retirement community — 55 and older.' That’s going to be your best hit by far." Better secure that mailbox, grandma … and no, the postal service doesn't deliver on Saturdays any more.
For all your continued Jason Bateman needs look no further than "Couples Retreat" at 8:30 p.m. and again at 11 p.m. on USA. This 2009 comic farce was clearly an opportunity for Bateman, Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn to take a long paid vacation in Bora Bora while cameras were running, but that doesn't mean there aren't some laughs to be had.
Sunday, February 10
I know you can make it through the weekend since this week's "Survivor of Thunderdome" has been hangin' in there unscathed since 1958: "The Ballad of Narayama" on newly restored Criterion Blu-ray/DVD and iTunes. Despite most of this story taking place outdoors in a remote Japanese mountain village, director Keisuke Kinoshita deliberately shot everything on intricate studio-bound sets to give things a theatrical flair. It depicts a poor society whose elderly are taken to the bottom of a mountain and left to die when they turn 70, kind of like a more lenient "Logan's Run." Except, unlike Logan, the old crone protagonist Orin (Kinuyo Tanaka) doesn't have any qualms about doing her duty for the good of her village's dwindling rice supply. Pretty much every frame of this movie is worthy of framing on your wall, with stunning in-camera lighting transitions and vivid colors that haven't aged a day since its debut 55-years ago and even surpass its more naturalistic remake from 1983. Give this exquisite meditation on death and elder abuse a try, won't you?
Speaking of things that have aged well (or in this case, haven't), the 3D re-release of 1986's "Top Gun" proves, if anything, that the jingoistic heroics of ace pilot Maverick are pretty goddamn dated, as is the nonexistent chemistry between Kelly McGillis and Tom Cruise. Still, "Gun" producers Jerry Bruckheimer and the late Don Simpson more or less invented the MTV/coke-infused rock 'n roll blockbuster, right up to their final collaboration, Michael Bay's adorably lunkheaded "The Rock" at 1 p.m. on Showtime. If "Top Gun" was a Reagan-era experiment in 24-hour sunset indulgence, then "The Rock" is that same formula honed to a rocket science, which also happens to be the profession of Nicolas Cage's character. Enjoy as Cage mugs alongside a too-cool-for-school Sean Connery taking on bad guys ... and perhaps you can spot some of Don Simpson's favorite prostitutes on loan from the Heidi Fleiss collection.
Any geek worth their salt knows that Bob Burns is one of the foremost collectors of sci-fi movie props and memorabilia, but do you know the full extent of his influence in Hollywood with pals like Peter Jackson and so forth? You can read all about it in the newly revised edition of "Bob Burns' Monster Kid Memories," which includes introductions by his beardness Leonard Maltin and "Gremlins" director Joe Dante. If that tickles your nerd fancy, also check out Burns and other famous monster dweebs in 2006's documentary "The Sci-Fi Boys" on Netflix Instant.
Lastly, I'd like to remind all my lovely female readers in New York City that the Athena Film Festival is having its third annual showcase for women who would rather make badass movies than do my laundry or make my sandwich, as it should be. I can fold my OWN linens, thank you very much, ladies. Highlights include a conversation with producer Gale Anne Hurd ("The Terminator") on Friday, a screening of Pixar's "Brave" with director Brenda Chapman on Saturday, and a movie about farm midwives today (I'm gonna watch the s**t outta that one). Our own Kase Wickman did a Q&A with Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody, writer of the amazing "Young Adult," about her position as co-chair of AFF: "The festival is, to me, very important and very necessary because it's a celebration of women who are not only creating films, but are in leadership positions in the film industry."
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 …