Greetings from the apocalypse! That may be this column's reassuring greeting each week, but damn if it hasn't proved prescient as all get-out. It seems like we can't go a week this summer without at least one movie where extinction-level events occur with pornographic intensity ("Man of Steel," "This is the End," "After Earth," the upcoming "Pacific Rim" and "The World's End"). Not that I'm complaining. Bring on the rubble, Brad Pitt!
Friday, June 21
POW! IN THEATERS
Brad Pitt, big-budget zombie movie. Those are two phrases you thought you'd never hear put together by anyone not on mescaline, but "World War Z" is upon us and we must act for the preservation of our species! Pitt plays an all-purpose UN investigator/ badass named Gerry Lane who is dispatched to find patient zero in a zombie plague scorching the Earth in an all-encompassing way. Will the human race survive? Will Lane be reunited with his family? Will Pitt's hair flow beautifully in the wind like a contemporary Adonis? Let's hope so for Paramount's sake, since they invested a whopping $200+ million in this production that went crazy out of control, necessitating a reshoot of the entire third act!
The progenitor of the established zombie mythos (they're flesh-eating, if you're bitten by one you become one, beat 'em or burn 'em, etc.) is George A. Romero's classic 1968 gorefest "Night of the Living Dead," this week's true Survivor of Thunderdome. It boggles my mind that so many of this generation digging the new zombie renaissance have never laid eyes on this perfect dazzler of a horror picture, one that's still just as potent today as it was 45 years ago. Between the handheld documentary-style cinematography and the relentlessly bleak outlook it'll surely scare the bejeezus out of you, not to mention the sly revolutionary subtext that reflects the turmoil of the Vietnam/ Civil Rights era. Due to a copyright snafu the film now rests in the public domain, so you can watch it guilt-free (and free-free) via YouTube in HD below:
NETFLIX RECOMMENDS WITH A VENGEANCE
Before the advent of the bitey Romero zombie there was Haitian voodoo that turned folks into mindless meat puppets. This soul-stealing slavery was the subject of many classic flicks like "White Zombie" and "I Walked With a Zombie," but perhaps the most fascinating modern take on the zed-word is Wes Craven's "The Serpent and the Rainbow," currently available on Netflix Streaming. Based on a non-fiction book by Harvard ethnobotanist Wade Davis, it stars Bill Pullman as a dude researching a neurotoxin that simulates death, only to become an unwilling victim of an evil police captain/ mystic (Zakes Mokae) who buries him alive. In typical Craven fashion there are freaky-ass dream sequences and hallucinations, as well as political commentary on the corrupt government of ousted Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier. Definitely a good companion piece to "World War Z."
BASIC CABLE BLUES
Leave it to SyFy to give us exactly what we needed on Z-day, namely bucketloads of zombie carnage. From 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. they've got four not-exactly-classic undead opuses for you to chew on, including "Dead Season," "Zombie Apocalypse," Zack Snyder's remake of "Dawn of the Dead" and "Resident Evil: Afterlife." The latter is proof that Paul W. S. Anderson's wedding vows to Milla Jovovich went as follows: "Do you take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife, to love and to cherish, to have and to hold, to make sequel after sequel wherein she shoots zombies in 3-D?"
Saturday, June 22
POW! IN THEATERS
After the untimely deaths of behind-the-scenes masterminds Joe Ranft and Steve Jobs, Pixar has been making its inexorable descent towards the middle of the road, relying increasingly on the strip-mining of its back catalog. With this cash-grab mentality, here comes "Monsters University," a collegial prequel no one wanted to one of the best movies in Pixar's canon, "Monsters, Inc." Although this "Animal House" sans beer, boobs and Belushi will surely delight children of all ages, some of us would rather not imagine Mike and Sulley doing keg stands or holding court for hours of THC-enhanced discussions of Hermann Hesse. Actually, that would be cool, but that's definitely not this movie.
PAY CHANNEL PAYBACK
Another notch in Pixar's downslide was last year's "Brave," which airs today on Starz at 2:35 p.m. That said, it's still not a bad movie. Indeed, this tale of a no-nonsense princess named Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) who makes Hawkeye look like a chump with her mad bow and arrow skillz is well-paced and brimming with medieval feminism, something you don't see very often, especially in a Disney pic. Unfortunately, it's still just another Disney princess movie, no matter how empowering it may or may not be to the ladies.
Speaking of grrrl power, how's this for an appropriate segue: Womanimation! at the Cable Car Cinema in Providence, Rhode Island. This 80-minute program collects short animated wonderments from all over the globe made by women for everybody, including pieces from the UK, Spain, France, Germany and the Czech Republic. Tell them I sent you and receive a free fist bump (not really).
One of the funniest documentaries I've ever seen is John Landis' "Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project" (2007), where the legendary zinger-meister finally gets his due from a host of show-business bigwigs including Robin Williams, Martin Scorsese and Clint Eastwood, not to mention John Lasseter of Pixar (who cast him as Mr. Potato Head in the "Toy Story" movies) and "Monsters University" star Billy Crystal. Landis gets to the heart of what makes Rickles so vital and even punk rock, a guy who at age 87 can get away with walking up to a Vegas audience member and proclaiming, "Japanese? Three years in the jungle lookin' for your father!" Watch it below in its entirety via HULU fo free, yo.
Sunday, June 23
NEW ON BLU
Shout! Factory continues their tradition of bringing obscure genre excellence to Blu-ray with gorgeous new transfers of '80s cult favorites "The Howling" and "Lifeforce." "The Howling" is Joe Dante's sly take on the werewolf mythos that's actually a subversive takedown of new age cults and features an amazing transformation scene by the Michelangelo of make-up effects, Rob Bottin. "Lifeforce" is a bats**t insane science fiction beast about sexy space vampires that run around naked for two-thirds of the movie sucking out people's souls and turning them into the walking dead. It was a massive flop for director Tobe Hooper ("The Texas Chain Saw Massacre") but remains one of the nuttiest big-budget campfests ever.
The AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring, Maryland as well as several locations in the DC area will play host to the 2013 AFI Docs Film Festival. Gala premieres of cartoonist "Herblock – The Black & The White," the JFK tale "Letters to Jackie" and a free symposium with the eminent Errol Morris ("Gates of Heaven") on June 21 at 6 p.m. at the National Archives. Other films of note include the kung-fu academy doc "Dragon Girls," a story of one boy's battle with accelerated aging (Progeria) in "Life According to Sam" and a narrative on Bikini Kill/ Le Tigre frontwoman/ feminist icon Kathleen Hanna simply titled "The Punk Singer." Hell yeah.
STAR WARS CORNER
I've been reading and enjoying the hell out of Dark Horse's new licensed series titled simply "Star Wars," as it's the first expanded universe comic to literally follow the rebellion RIGHT AFTER the end of the original 1977 classic. With the Death Star destroyed, Luke, Leia and Han are scrambling to find the Alliance some new digs to use as a base, and writer Brian Wood exploits that concept to the nines. There's still icky sexual tension between brother and sister and Darth Vader is demoted to construction duty on the new Death Star.Most awesomely, Chewbacca has a scene where he climbs out of the Millennium Falcon as it is pursued through Coruscant and shoots down TIE Fighters by hand. YES! You can download each issue digitally HERE.
SALUTE TO JAMES GANDOLFINI
By now you must have heard that we lost one of cinema's true lions in James Gandolfini, who branched out beyond his "Sopranos" gangster image in recent years with a hilarious comedic performance as a general for "In the Loop" and as a lovable huggable monster in "Where the Wild Things Are." Since Brad Pitt is leading the weekend, it seems only appropriate that we close this week's piece with a classic scene between Pitt and Gandolfini in "True Romance" (1993).
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 …