Greetings from the apocalypse! As North Korea readies their nukes for a pre-emptive strike against the U.S., and Dennis Rodman plays a game of pick-up basketball with supreme leader Kim Jong-un with the very survival of the planet on the line, I'm ready for a solid weekend of moviegoing. How about you? Sure you are. If you're really worried about Kim's missiles made out of Campbell's Soup cans and old Sony Walkmans, then go to Home Depot and grab a 30-dollar tarp to cover your roof with. That oughta do the trick.
Friday, March 8
When he wasn't directing and starring in hardcore gay pornography, Jack-of-all-trades James Franco made a 200-million-dollar Disney film. That's how badass that guy is. "Oz the Great and Powerful" (that's the Disney film, not the porno) explores a traveling carnival magician's deepest fears and greatest desires as he makes love to three sisters who turn out to be witches. Okay, that's the porn-y way to describe it, but that's really what it's about! Sam Raimi of "Evil Dead"/"Spider-Man" fame revisits L. Frank Baum's land of whimsy and wonder, where his cornball sense of Americana is an asset as opposed to a liability (eh-hem, "Spider-Man 3"). Much charm is in store as Franco's Oz is whisked away via Kansas twister to an enchanted land of furry flying monkey bellhops and cute talking China dolls. Although one could argue that Franco and his post-modern renaissance man shenanigans ("General Hospital," NYU student, wacky art installations, etc.) lend his turn-of-the-20th-century con man too much of a contemporary sheen, everyone (including witchy women Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz and Mila Kunis) give very tongue-in-cheek performances that belie the sickly-sweet Disney-ness of it all. By the end it devolves into the usual prequelitis as it sets things up for the '39 "Wizard of Oz," but this is still Raimi's strongest work in over a decade. If you're seeking a companion piece that delves further into the candy-colored world-building at work then go to your nearest undemolished Barnes & Noble and grab a copy of "The Art of 'Oz The Great and Powerful,'" a 256-page making-of from Disney Editions.
Sarah Palin can smell the BBQ from her house in Alaska, since the SXSW festivities in Austin, Texas kick off today through the 16th, with "Oz" man Sam Raimi himself likely on hand tonight for the world premiere of Fede Alvarez's Bruce Campbell-approved "Evil Dead" remake. Other SXSW film premieres include actorography "Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction," antic horror comedy "Cheap Thrills," Joss Whedon doing Shakespeare in "Much Ado About Nothing," Rob Zombie doing his wife Sheri Moon in "Lords of Salem" and a backwards "Beetlejuice"-type situation called "Haunter" from "Splice" helmer Vincenzo Natali.
If it's more Mila Kunis and James Franco action you're itching for, look no further than 2010's "Date Night" on FX at 10 p.m. It's ostensibly a silly farce about a boring married couple (played by Tina Fey and Steve Carell) who are mistaken for a pair of blackmailers named Taste and Whippet, which are none other than our two "Oz" leads in extended cameos. All in all it's less of a comedy goldmine than yet another opportunity for Franco to increase his steadily frightening ubiquity.
Saturday, March 9
"Now I know my ABCs, next time won't you KILL WITH MEEEEEEEEEE!!!! HAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHA!!!" Sorry, don't know where that came from. The mega-anthology film "The ABCs of Death" promises a veritable sick and twisted short film fest as 26 filmmakers take on the title theme with gusto, and even though it's been out on VOD and iTunes for a bit you can now catch it in select theaters for a token run to justify the "See it before it hits theaters!" claim. All in all it looks like gory fun, with robots, dog-on-human fighting, samurai beheadings, toilet miscarriages and Claymation all rolled into one deliciously deadly Bento box of slaughter. The filmmakers include Nacho Vigalondo ("Timecrimes"), Ti West ("House of the Devil") and Canadian splatter prodigy Jason Eisener ("Hobo with a Shotgun").
Out on Blu-ray this week is one of last year's more potent fright flicks, the eco-horror found footage movie "The Bay." Made by Academy Award-winning "Rain Man" director Barry Levinson (who I interviewed during New York Comic Con), this entry into an overcrowded subgenre distinguishes itself by its basis in sickening facts (the Chesapeake Bay is a toxic soup) and real monsters called isopods that really do kill fish and really do grow to be huge. The little stretch of the truth comes when these little crustacean-y insect-like things start goin' after humans, and then things get messy. Ignored upon release, this is a movie that will get under your skin … and eat your tongue.
Continuing our OZ-a-go-go, let's tango with Rachel Weisz as she helps Keanu Reeves battle otherworldy demons and stuff in "Constantine" at 3:30 p.m. on AMC. Based on the long-running/recently concluded Vertigo comic title "Hellblazer," it has the cancer-stricken demonologist John Constantine (Reeves) in a silly plot involving the Spear of Destiny, an androgynous angel Gabriel (Tilda Swinton) and Lucifer himself (Peter Stormare … of course!). It really doesn't have much respect for the source material (Constantine is supposed to be BLONDE, for Christ's sake), but some of helmer Francis Lawrence's visuals have a cool Zdzisław Beksiński-like quality.
Glinda the Good Witch of Oz transforms herself into the 20th century's ultimate sex bomb in the cable premiere of Oscar-nominee "My Week With Marilyn" at 8 p.m. on Showtime, immediately followed by the short doc "My Week With Marilyn: The Untold Story of an American Icon." With her typical aplomb, Golden Globe-winner Michelle Williams finds the fragile center of this powerful woman as she is squired about town by Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) while her husband Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott) is out of the country. Kenneth Branagh also gets to play his idol Laurence Olivier during the production of "The Prince and the Showgirl," but this is first-class Oscar bait all the way.
Sunday, March 10
Having packed your week with Marilyn into one frantic evening of inebriated sex, why not wake up in a '60s mindset this morning with 1963's "Jason and the Argonauts" at 11 a.m. at Film Forum in NYC. The sexual iconography of Monroe is no match for the towering Bronze Colossus which Jason (Todd Armstrong) does battle with on his quest for the cherished Golden Fleece. You will also be floored by the seven stop-motion skeletons created by special effects genius Ray Harryhausen, if for no other reason then that they were created by ONE DUDE working with his bare hands on real puppets, without so much as a single microchip involved. The measly seven bucks admission also gives you the awesome 1947 short "Date with Duke," starring Duke Ellington alongside creations by that other old school stop-motion master George Pal.
A little later this afternoon in Maryland you can travel even further back in time for a very special 1:30 p.m. 90th anniversary screening of Lon Chaney's "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" (1923) at AFI Silver. Featuring live musical accompaniment by Gabriel Thibaudeau's ensemble, this is the movie where makeup master Chaney truly outdid himself, creating a Quasimodo the likes of which Disney never could have conjured in a thousand deformity nightmares. The makeup was extensive, with Chaney covered in putty and hair, forced to wear a 20-pound hump on his back the whole way through production; the strain of that as well as painful contact lenses caused him medical trouble for the rest of his life, which was only seven more years at this point. DEDICATION, dude!
New to Netflix Instant is "Constantine" star Keanu Reeves' fascinating documentary "Side by Side," this week's much-recommended "Survivor of Thunderdome." Bill and Ted's better half sheds his airhead persona to talk tech with some of the greatest minds in Hollywood, including James Cameron, George Lucas, David Fincher, Martin Scorsese and his "Matrix" cohorts Wachowski Starship. Spurred on by Reeves' infinite affability, the filmmakers discuss the pros and cons (mostly pros) of the encroaching digital age in moviemaking, and by the end declare traditional film as all-but-dead, with digital advocates like Steven Soderbergh spitting on its grave a few times for good measure. If you have any familiarity with the evolving nature of digital cameras, from their early application on the Dogma 95 films to their first mainstream use on "Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones" through the current domination with the RED and Arri ALEXA, then this will be mostly déjà vu. "Whoa!" That said, even the smart set will be enthralled by the heady discussions these master filmmakers have with Reeves as they ask important questions like "How are we going to preserve all this digital s**t for the next hundred years?" and stuff like that. Good question!
Finally, in the wake of this week's super boss trailer for "Iron Man 3," let's celebrate star Robert Downey Jr. and writer/director Shane Black's first pairing for "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" at 8:15 p.m. on ThrillerMax. Nothing can compare to watching this neo noir comedy unspool to a packed audience at a 2005 test screening, but I was saddened that when it actually came out folks stayed away in droves. At the time Downey was not yet made of iron (mostly syringes) and Val Kilmer was entering his puffy skid row period, but the combination of these two former bad boys was nothing short of electric. The plot is so convoluted I would need a diagram to describe it, but let's say Downey plays a thief mistaken as an actor who lands a big screen test in L.A. and winds up teaming up with a gay private dick (Kilmer) to solve a bunch-a-munch-a murder.
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 …