"If you figure a way to live without serving a master, any master, then let the rest of us know, will you? For you'd be the first person in the history of the world." – Philip Seymour Hoffman, 'The Master'
Greetings from the apocalypse! This week finds me once again walking down memory lane as I recall two new movies I visited the sets of and, as usual, childhood traumas. Do those traumas involve giants? Do I seek the therapy I so desperately need? Read on …
Friday, March 1
Okay, so in case you haven't heard already, "21 and Over" is basically the same movie as "The Hangover," as evidenced by our informative chart. I had the honor of touring the set of this raunchy sex/alcohol poisoning comedy in Seattle around 2011 or so (I can't quite remember for some reason) and got to watch Justin Chon ride a mechanical buffalo while projectile vomiting. If that's only the tip of the iceberg for all the savage debauchery Miles Teller and Skylar Astin put this poor Korean kid through in this movie … well, I'm sure Park Chan-wook could have thought of worse, but that's for Sunday. Another entry in the "one crazy night" subgenre, directed by the writers of "The Hangover," Jon Lucas and Scott Moore.
If you're in Florida and want to replicate some of that obnoxious "21 and Over" drunkenness, then look no further than the 30th Annual Miami International Film Festival. The lavish, meet market-style event kicks off at Miami Dade College with an opening night best dressed contest and concludes with the PYRAT RUM AWARDS NIGHT PARTY! In between there's the tennis sisters doc "Venus and Serena" as well as an early screening of Dreamworks' "The Croods" on Saturday.
Since the jump from Miami to Scientology's Floridian home base in Clearwater is only four hours away, it seems likely some hot girl with glassy eyes at the film festival is going to offer you a "Free stress test!" Before this happens, I heartily recommend popping in Paul Thomas Anderson's quasi-anti-Scientology movie "The Master" on Blu-ray/DVD this week. Anderson uses Philip Seymour Hoffman's Lancaster Dodd as his L. Ron Hubbard stand-in, preaching the merits of a New Age wacko religion known as "The Cause" during the early 1950s. Hoffman's creepy charisma is matched measure-for-measure by Joaquin Phoenix, playing an unhinged WWII vet named Freddie, who becomes an unlikely Sancho to Dodd's Quixote. Underperforming at both the box office and during awards season (WTF Oscars?), "The Master" arrives on disc ready for re-evaluation, and Anderson has included a carefully edited 20-minute montage of deleted scenes and a full-length 1946 John Huston doc "Let There Be Light," whose portrayal of disturbed vets informed Phoenix's character.
Saturday, March 2
If I had seen it I might have said, "Those looking for some fee fi fo fun at the movies this week can climb the vine of 'Jack the Giant Slayer'" but I have neither seen the film nor am I Gene F**kin' Shalit. As it stands, Bryan Singer's calculated hop onto the revisionist fairy tale bandwagon seems about as cynical an attempt to ape Peter Jackson as these eyes have ever beheld, but there's also a part of me that wants to see an old-fashioned movie that looks and feels like it was made in the 1960s with Ray Harryhausen handling the effects. This looks like it can go either way, and Ewan McGregor is channeling the same swashbuckling spirit he brought to Obi-Wan Kenobi, with star Nicholas Hoult slowly climbing his way up the Hollywood ladder to stardom.
Word has it that at least one sequence in "Jack the Giant Slayer" resembles a PlayStation 3 game, so why not eliminate the middle man and actually play one? Sega's "Aliens: Colonial Marines" was recently released on Valentines Day (aww) for PS3, PC, and Xbox 360, and it promises all the gory thrills of James Cameron's 1986 classic. It literally picks up as a direct sequel to that film (with some elements of the woeful "Alien 3" thrown in for bad measure), with a new team of grunts dispatched to LV-426 and the Sulaco to figure out what the hell went wrong. There's also a roster of thesps from the film who supply voices for this massive undertaking: Michael Biehn (Hicks), Mark Rolston (Drake), Al Matthews (Sergeant Apone), William Hope (Lieutenant Gorman) and Lance Henriksen as another (intact) version of that rascally synthetic, Bishop.
Now I'm not saying that "Aliens: Colonial Marines" was sponsored by the government to brainwash gamers, but I'm not NOT saying that either. One game that was definitely trying to melt some minds was "Polybius," one of the great urban legends of gaming. The story goes that a strange arcade cabinet appeared in Portland, Oregon around 1981 called "Polybius," and those who played it experienced "intense stress, horrific nightmares, and even suicidal tendencies." Some say it was created by the government as an offshoot of their MK Ultra experiments, while others say it's complete and utter bulls**t. YOU decide.
After the back-to-back recommends of "Aliens" and "Polybius" you'd have thought I'd had my fill of Lovecraftian terror … WRONG! Those currently sucked into AMC's "The Walking Dead" will find many familiar faces in Frank Darabont's 2007 horror masterpiece "The Mist" at 6:30 p.m. on SyFy (and again at 12:30 a.m.). It's a brisk, muscular adaptation of Stephen King's short story about a fog that covers a small town in a plague of monsters beyond reckoning, with Thomas Jane as the brave dad who has to fight off winged demons and Christian fundamentalists in order to keep his kid safe within the confines of a supermarket where society is quickly collapsing. The original story was phenomenal, but Darabont grafted on an ending that is so "Twilight Zone"-level shocking that even King himself says he wishes he had thought of it.
Sunday, March 3
Imagine if Wes Anderson and Brian De Palma got in a head-on collision and the mushed-together mass of flesh that emerged from the smoldering car wreck made a movie. That would be "Stoker," the English-language debut of South Korea's Park Chan-wook, the genius/nutjob behind "Oldboy" and "Sympathy For Lady Vengeance," which takes the coveted "Survivor of Thunderdome" slot this week. I visited the set of this movie as it lensed in beautiful Nashville, Tennessee in late 2011, and between the bizarre goings-on in front of the camera (star Mia Wasikowska popping a blister, a young boy making a dirt angel, a lawnmower moving across the grass on its own, etc.) and the fact that Park doesn't speak a lick of English, well … I was a might confused.
Makes sense now, since the film itself plays out like a mysterious, fractured collage revolving around 18-year-old India (Wasikowska), her recently deceased dad Richard (Dermot Mulroney), her just-as-recently arrived Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) and her basket case of a mom Evelyn (Nicole Kidman). Goode's Uncle Creepy routine sears the screen with white-hot magnetism, while Wasikowska is so macabre she could start a quilting bee with Margot Tenenbaum and Wednesday Addams. Park and screenwriter Wentworth Miller (yes, the guy from "Prison Break") telegraph certain acts of violence so hard that some others seem to come completely out of left field, keeping us perpetually on our toes as to who's gonna win The Psychopath Olympics playing out on screen. With the most subtle of supernatural undercurrent, this is a movie that begs for both multiple viewings and a prior familiarity with Park's oeuvre.
Luckily for New Yorkers, the Museum of the Moving Image is presenting Park's entire Vengeance Trilogy, along with an early film called "J.S.A.: Joint Security Area" and a selection of his short films throughout the weekend. My personal fav of the trilogy is 2005's "Sympathy For Lady Vengeance" (Sunday, 6 p.m.), if only because leading lady Lee Yeong-ae brings aching humanity to her quest to take out the guy who framed her for murder and kidnapped her daughter. Takin' out the trash! Of course, the entire Vengeance Trilogy, including the classic "Oldboy" and "Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance," is available on Netflix Instant to pervert your American sense of right and wrong.
If you prefer your horror a little more, er, straightforward — and chock full 'o BOOBS — then why not spend the weekend basking in the bucolic splendor of 1981's "Zombie Lake" ("Le lac des morts vivants") on Blu-ray, or Netflix Instant for the cheap bastards. Because this French sexploitation Nazi horror movie is newly remastered, you can count every freckle on the behinds of the many buxom beauties who bathe in the title lake, where World War II-era murdered Nazis rise from their watery graves seeking the flesh of the living … after they watch the ladies swim naked a little first. I dunno if the Netflix cut is botched or the movie is just incompetently made (guess my sneaking suspicion!), but there are extras smiling while carrying a dead body through the town, combat scenes as convincing as a backyard Nerf battle and points where all music/sound will drop abruptly so sex scenes seem like filler in a snuff film. I loved it. Distinctive (i.e. ugly) character actor Howard Vernon ("Alphaville," "Delicatessen") plays the mayor, and this f**kin' flick is so bats**t crazy it ends with a little girl sincerely crying "Don't forget me!" to a burning Nazi zombie. BOOBS!!!
Star Wars Corner!
You're not in Kansas anymore. You're actually in Seattle, Washington for Emerald City ComicCon. This parade of high viscosity nerdosity has its fair share of beloved has-beens (Gillian Anderson, Christopher Lloyd), but the guests of honor at this year's genre festivities has to be Carrie Fisher and Billy Dee Williams! Friday through Sunday Princess Leia will be signing all manner of metal bikinis for 70 bucks a pop, while for 45 smackers you can pose in a photo with Lando and a can of Colt 45. If you spent most of your money on Brony paraphernalia, you can always scrape together 30 bucks to snap a picture with Ray Park, a.k.a. Darth Maul, and for an extra $5 you can cut him in half with a lightsaber.
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 …