Greetings from the apocalypse! This here is my twentieth weekend column, which seemed like as good a time as any to reach out to my fellow weekend road warriors to say if you have any suggestions for upcoming films/local weekend events to feature in future editions just write me on Twitter. Signed 8 x 10 glossies will be sent to fans at my secretary's discretion. But seriously, write away — give this wandering rōnin of the desert some feedback, yo.
Friday, May 24
POW! IN THEATERS
I'm admittedly not a huge fan of the "Hangover" franchise — only in America and possibly France could such a thing spawn a franchise — so when I tell you "The Hangover Part III" has nary a laugh or even much drinking in it just take that with a grain of salt and a lime chaser. The first outing was a lame melding of "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" and "Dude, Where's My Car?" that bro culture latched on to with frightening zeal, while "Part II" found the Wolf Pack in Bangkok essentially remaking "Part I." This third jam has Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis (at his schtickiest) on a quest to deliver coked-out Leslie Chow (Ken Jeong) to an evil mobster played by John Goodman who's holding the ever-useless Doug (Justin Bartha) hostage. Breaking the formula was a good idea, but everyone including director Todd Phillips is just going through the motions; stay through the closing credits for a gag that spells out clearly just how tired the joke is, even to them.
BASIC CABLE BLUES
Yeah, I know I just trashed it in the capsule above, but hell, if you want to realize how much the boys have grown in four years (answer: not much) then check out 2009's original "The Hangover" on TBS at 9 p.m. Besides the chemistry between the three leads, what made this one work was a genuinely clever mystery at its core as the three wasted schmucks wake up with no memory of the previous evening's degenerate behavior despite ample clues (missing tooth, a tiger, a baby). Of course TBS will have to edit out most of the fun parts, but if you're entertaining your grandpa for Memorial Day weekend this one is a good bet.
Anyone who fancies themselves a screenwriter but hasn't quite cracked it yet will get a lot of juice from the podcast "Scriptnotes" with John August (writer of "Go" as well as Tim Burton's go-to guy) and Craig Mazin (the culprit behind two-thirds of the "Hangover" trilogy). Their repartee often consists of Mazin going on long screeds while August replies with a dry "Uh-huh, moving on," like Woody Allen kvetching to Data from "Star Trek." It's all gold, though. These are two successful professionals giving you lots of writing tips without ever putting a gun to your head saying, "This is the way!" Their 3-Page Challenge dissections of reader submissions are brutal, but they're both willing to turn that same critique beam on themselves. This week's episode focuses on the importance of writing effective transitions … which should never involve an old-timey camera flashbulb going off.
Saturday, May 25
POW! IN THEATERS
First of all, "Fast & Furious 6" is dumb. Totes dumb. It also happens to be monstrously entertaining, never slowing down for as much as a split second, not to mention allowing everyone in the ample ensemble a moment or three to shine. While the previous films took their cues from "Smokey and the Bandit" meets "The Road Warrior," this one has honed in on an international Roger Moore-era 007-with-rims vibe as Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his crew get back behind the wheel when Agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) discovers thought-dead Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) is working for an international criminal douchebag-cum-terrorist (Luke Evans). A climactic chase scene on an airplane runway goes on for at least TWENTY MILES ... but director Justin Lin knows that and flaunts that excess as a plus, not a minus. There were at least eight rounds of applause scattered throughout my screening, something I can say for neither "Star Trek" nor "Hangover III."
Vin Diesel's utter likeability is part of what gives the "Fast" franchise its oomph, and having met the guy before I can say that charisma is the real deal. If you want to meet the real Vin then why not go back to his 1994 calling card short "Multi-Facial," available in its entirety on YouTube. No, it's not a crazy Japanese bukkake video, it's a sensitive look at the racial politics involved in landing an acting gig, something The Deez knew well with his half-Italian/half-African American background. The film itself, which he wrote/produced/directed, is very much a 20-minute audition piece (which landed him a part in "Saving Private Ryan"), although its argument against pigeonholing actors based on looks is poignant. You can watch "Multi-Facial" in two parts below:
NETFLIX RECOMMENDS WITH A VENGEANCE
So you're a true blue fan of the "Fast & Furious," huh? Then let's dip back to the long forgotten 1955 B-movie it sprang from, or at least the title. "The Fast and the Furious," available on Netflix Streaming, stars John Ireland as an innocent framed for murder on the run from Johnny Law and Dorothy Malone as the whip-smart dame he kidnaps as he commandeers her fast roadster to Mexico. Along the way they fall in love and enter a cross-border sports car race … convenient! This was legendary producer Roger Corman's first movie, and he literally started with a bang: a truck explodes five seconds into the movie, followed immediately by a car chase through the credits. It also includes this amazing dialogue exchange:
-How'd the cops find out?
-I turned you in.
-How'd you get out?
-Set the building on fire.
-You're a pretty dangerous character yourself.
THE CON IS ON
They're gonna be barbequing up some nerdery with a side of geek fricassee at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, TX as Comicpalooza: The Texas International Comic Con tractor-beams a galaxy of stars to the Lone Star State. Pay top dollar for autographs from "Fast & Furious 6" resurrection Michelle Rodriguez (today only), machete-wielding Mexican Danny Trejo, captain of the Enterprise emeritus Patrick Stewart, comic artist legend Bernie Wrightson (who designed creatures for "Ghostbusters" and "The Mist") and, why not, Chewbacca himself, Peter Mayhew. Somebody PLEASE ask him if he's gonna be in "Star Wars: Episode VII," just one of you! C'mon!
Sunday, May 26
MASTER OF THE ART HOUSE
Can lightning strike thrice? That's the question most of you "Before Sunrise" and "Before Sunset" fans will want to know before going into "Before Midnight," so rest assured it's just as charming, illuminating and well-observed as the other two. It is without hesitation my "Survivor of Thunderdome" for the week. The easy chemistry between Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy is tested this time around by the fact that their characters are not meeting or catching up but have actually been together since the last movie, spawning adorable twin girls along with myriad resentments that come crashing down on them in the bitter third act. Richard Linklater brilliantly structures the film to be idyllic even as pleasantly dicey barbs pass between the two, only to quickly escalate into full-blown anger towards the end. If that's not love I dunno what is. Bonus points for the excellent plucky guitar soundtrack by Graham Reynolds.
PAY CHANNEL PAYBACK
Getting rave notices out of Cannes is Steven Soderbergh's supposed "swan song" as a film director, "Behind the Candelabra," premiering at 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. tonight on HBO. The network was apparently the only place that Sodie could get financing for his Liberace biopic, which despite heavyweight stars like Michael Douglas and Matt Damon was deemed "too gay" for theatrical release. Too gay? Okay, maybe, but Michael Douglas looks like he totally nails the essence of perhaps the biggest entertainer of the 20th century. As if it wasn't gay enough, HBO strategically placed Soderbergh's "Magic Mike" (premiering Sat night at 8 p.m.) before it tonight at 7 p.m. Go get 'em, boys!
NEW ON BLU
The most enjoyable part of "The ABCs of Death," now on Blu-ray from Magnet, is arguing with your drunken friends about which piece was the best. Twenty-six directors from all over the place (get ready to read some subtitles) were given free reign to shed blood with gallons of ingenuity (and red corn syrup) corresponding to each letter of the alphabet. The five best segments IMHO:
- D is for Dogfight (guy boxes a dog in slow motion)
- O is for Orgasm (can't even describe this one)
- S is for Speed (amazing "Road Warrior"/Russ Meyer homage)
- V is for Vagitus (sci-fi adrenaline rush)
- Y is for Youngbuck (pedophile rape revenge involving deer)
"V" is especially victorious, with Canadian comic book artist Kaare Andrews lapping all 25 others in terms of look, effects and ingenuity. It's also the only short that begs for a full-length extension, with its intricate future dystopia of giant robots hunting psychics trying to breed illegally. The Blu-ray/DVD features are broken up by segment, and while not all are represented most of the good ones are; meanwhile, Drafthouse Films has also crafted a limited run (666 copies) of "The ABCs of Death" in children's book form, with accompanying Blu-ray.
Some of my favorite pieces in "The ABCs of Death" are the Japanese ones, especially the one about the lady who dies inside her lesbian crush's fart. You have to see it. It got me in the mood for more J-horror anthologies … wait, what's this we have here? Straight from the Criterion Collection to your eye and ear holes comes Masaki Kobayashi's horror anthology film "Kwaidan" on HULU fo free yo. Unlike "The ABCs of Death" and its tiny bite-sized segments, this one has four long-ish spine-melting ghost stories from the pages of Japanese folklore. The artificially stagebound atmosphere only adds to the eeriness, especially the segment about a vengeful snow demon. You can watch it below in its entirety:
Monday, May 27 (Memorial Day)
BASIC CABLE BLUES
Memorial Day has become synonymous with waterslides and beach trips, but it's also kinda about the brave men and women who've served our country in various wars, skirmishes and quagmires throughout the world. TCM has an all-day salute to the greatest generation of fightin' army, but the plum pick would have to be "The Guns of Navarone" at 9 a.m. Gregory Peck leads a ragtag group of Allied commandos charged with taking down an impenetrable fortress housing German super-weapons along the Mediterranean.
If its modern conflict you need a fix of then march on over to FX, which takes you behind enemy lines with extreme prejudice via 2009's Best Picture winner "The Hurt Locker" at 12 p.m. followed by Ridley Scott's 2001 examination of the 1993 Somali fiasco "Black Hawk Down" at 3 p.m.
AMC is running a similar batch of soldier's stories, and for all you jingos I recommend John Wayne's 1968 directorial effort "The Green Berets" at 8 p.m., which has the distinction of being the only major movie about the Vietnam War actually made during the Vietnam War. It's flag-waving rah-rah patriotism the way only the Duke could dish it out. Forget all that hippy dippy, America-bashing "Apocalypse Now"/ "Platoon"/ "Full Metal Jacket" bulls**t — this is the real deal.
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 …