Greetings from the apocalypse! Woody Allen may have been cracking wise with that quote, but when it comes to Wolverine, eternity is no laughing matter. Somehow this weekend has found a way to include both in your moviegoing diet, so let's feast, shall we?
Friday, July 26
POW! IN THEATERS
BIAS ADMISSION: When Darren Aronofsky announced that he would be directing "The Wolverine," I went out and bought up the original Chris Claremont/Frank Miller source material, absorbing the Japan-set rōnin's tale in all its '80s glory. Then the "Black Swan" helmer dropped out, James Mangold took up the reins and I promptly sold that graphic novel. Why? It wasn't worth getting invested in anymore. Aronofsky is a visionary director, Mangold is a journeyman, and as soon as he signed on it signaled an end to any sort of idiosyncratic nature the project might have had. Indeed, in its final form "The Wolverine" is every bit the studio programmer preordained with Mangold's hiring. To be sure, the first two-thirds of the film have a real kick, a cross between a slow-burn Wong Kar-wai character piece and any Toshiro Mifune grab-bag samurai flick before descending into superhero schlock. It also seeks to neuter Hugh Jackman's Logan every step of the way; Wolvie can't just throw a Yakuza off a building, the bad guy has to land in a swimming pool. That kinda jazz. Tao Okamoto is ravishing and subtle as Logan's love interest, but poor Svetlana Khodchenkova (so compelling in "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy") looks like she's already in this film's porn parody. It's a cut above his last solo film, but is it a memorable outing that adds depth to Huge Jacked Man's mutton-chopped scowling? Close, but no cigar.
BASIC CABLE BLUES
One of the most annoying and unnecessary items Mangold brought to "The Wolverine" was his insistence on tying it to the previous entries when it could have effortlessly stood alone. He does this through repeated dream sequences featuring Famke Janssen's Jean Grey as a direct aftermath of her fate in 2006's "X-Men: The Last Stand," which airs at 5:30 p.m. tonight on FX. This Brett Ratner-"directed" entry details her resurrection as Phoenix, a mutant of inestimable telekinetic/destructive power. And how! It's actually not that bad of a movie once you get over Kelsey Grammer's Smurf-like Beast and "I'm the Juggernaut, bitch!" FX is also towing the company line showing 2009's "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" on Sunday, but I would avoid that one like a text message from Anthony Weiner.
"Know your enemy. Know his sword." Those sage words of martial wisdom come from Japanese history's preeminent sword-slinging master Miyamoto Musashi. Most famously portrayed in a cinematic trilogy by Toshiro Mifune, this 16th century rōnin was one of the noted influences on "The Wolverine." Back in 2009, The History Channel ran a doc simply called "Samurai" that'll bring you up to speed on this unbeatable warrior's philosophy through the prism of modern Japanese culture. Hosted by American martial artist/B-movie star Mark Dacascos ("Brotherhood of the Wolf"), the feature-length special uses live re-enactments, old movie footage, animation and genial travelogues to teach you the way of the samurai, no adamantium claws required. Watch it in its entirety via YouTube below:
THE CON IS ON
Meet the man who started all this mutant razzmatazz Stan 'The Man' Lee while the 90-year-old legend still walks among the living at Fandomfest Comic and Toy Expo in Louisville ("Lewa-vul"), Kentucky. If Mighty Marvel Maestros aren't your bag, this convention also boasts captain of captains William Shatner, KISS cunnilingus master Gene Simmons, voluptuous Gillian Anderson, B-grade Conan Jason Momoa, toker talkers Kevin Smith & Jason Mewes and, why not, Zach Galligan of "Gremlins" and pretty much nothing else. There's also a film festival, a vampire-themed masquerade ball and a partially-nude body art show. Well, what are you waiting for? Tell your roommate to start painting your buttocks STAT!
Saturday, July 27
POW! IN THEATERS
Ah, the folly of youth. Nearly-30-year-old Aubrey Plaza and a host of other 20-somethings pretend to be high schoolers who make gettin' some their primary action item in "The To Do List," a sex comedy made solely to remind guys like me that 1993 was two decades ago. That golden Clinton-era of prosperity is where we find Plaza's senior valedictorian Brandy Clark in the summer purgatory before college with nary a wick-dipping experience to call her own. She makes an ambitious scam list in order to "bone up" on sexual experiences, performing a host of obscene acts with the naiveté of a horny Lisa Simpson … all of which go horribly awry. Also on the to do list: pop culture references up the ying yang, including crying during "Beaches" and cherry-poppin' to the lilting sound of The Cranberries.
Donald Glover, DC Pierson and Dominic Dierkes all make appearances in "The To Do List," which makes it a kinda-sorta Derrick Comedy reunion. Derrick Comedy were among the brightest stars to rise from the YouTube swamp and their 2009 debut movie "Mystery Team" had them confidently stepping over the charred corpse of Broken Lizard as the next big comedy combo. Then Donald Glover stole the spotlight. Oh wells. Still, "Mystery Team" gets a lot of mileage from the premise of three kid detectives in their late teens who never went from "Hardy Boys" to "Hardy Men." Aubrey Plaza is on hand as well to provide these Sherlock Jr.'s their first murder case. "We're keeping evidence from the police, okay? We could go to jail! You know what happens in jail? No T.V.!" Watch it in its entirety via HULU fo free, yo:
The typically rainy and dour environ of Seattle, Washington will play host to some merriment under a (hopefully) cloudless sky tonight for the Fremont Almost Free Outdoor Cinema's presentation of "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" at 8 p.m. Besides featuring "The To Do List" co-star Bill Hader, it also tells an achingly heartbroken story of a lovelorn fool (Jason Segel) and his barenaked penis (also Jason Segel).
BASIC CABLE BLUES
Filmmakers generally set their coming-of-age films in the nostalgia-generating era they grew up in. For "To Do List" writer/director Maggie Carey it's 1993, but for the significantly older Barry Levinson it was 1959 in his 1982 classic debut feature "Diner" on TCM at midnight. Both movies feature hand-job scenes in a movie theater, but only one has a pre-plastic surgery Mickey Rourke getting said rub and tug (that would be "Diner"). Kevin Bacon, Daniel Stern, Paul Reiser, Timothy Daly and the irrepressible Steve Guttenberg round out the crew of "diner guys" who bulls**t their twenties away at a roadside Baltimore eatery. This movie's improv-heavy dialogue influenced everything from "Seinfeld" to Judd Apatow, and is an honest-to-God classic.
Sunday, July 28
MASTER OF THE ART HOUSE
For this week's much-recommended Survivor of Thunderdome, Woody Allen has produced his annual movie widget and this time it's called "Blue Jasmine." It's called that because the lead character's name is Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) and she's spiraling down to a level of mental illness that would make Blanche DuBois blanch. What turns Jasmine blue? Her ex-husband, a sleazeoid Bernie Madoff-style operator named Hal (Alec Baldwin) who took her and a lot of other folks (including her working-class sister Ginger) for a big ol' financial ride before biting the big one in prison. In dire straits, Jasmine is forced to move in with Ginger (the amazing Sally Hawkins) and see how the other half lives ... that other half that she belongs to now. Louis C.K., Bobby Cannavale and a revelatory Andrew Dice Clay are all aces as the lowbrow dudes in Ginger's life, and Blanchett is Oscar-caliber as long as she doesn't turn off too many Academy-types. You see, this movie might upset a lot of idle, upper-crust folk — the same ones who shell out $145 bucks to catch Allen playing clarinet at The Carlyle every Monday — who will no doubt see their shallow selves in Jasmine and realize what a house of cards their life really is. Suck on that, imaginary rich lady!
NETFLIX RECOMMENDS WITH A VENGEANCE
You can see Woody Allen the clarinet player, Woody Allen the raconteur, Woody Allen the master filmmaker and Woody Allen the stepdaughter skirt chaser (along with a few other Woody Allens thrown in for good measure) in the essential two-part "Woody Allen: A Documentary" on Netflix Instant. Director Robert B. Weide of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" fame felt the lure of America's neurotic laureate and paints a surprisingly candid portrait of the Woodman as a hard-working, humble and compulsively creative guy from Brooklyn with a virtually bulletproof filmography littered with masterpieces. Oh, and he's kinda funny, too. An absolute must-see.
NEW ON BLU
If you loved Ryan Gosling's cooler-than-thou action flick "Drive" then wait until you get a load of a different kind of laconic getaway driver Ryan with-a-code: Ryan O'Neal in 1978's "The Driver," which ships this week in a limited 3000-run Blu-ray from Twilight Time. I've been a proud owner of the DVD of this sweet baby for a long-ass time simply because director Walter Hill found a way to strip down the action movie to haiku form. All the characters are called by their story function (The Driver, The Detective, The Player, etc.) and no one utters a single extraneous word. The chase sequences are muscular, relentless, smooth … you can literally feel Nicolas Winding Refn taking notes and crossing out the "The" and "r" in the title "The Driver."
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 …