Greetings from the apocalypse, and welcome to the new weekly feature where our lone warrior gives you the play-by-play for how your filmgoing weekend can unfold, Friday-to-Sunday, morning-to-night.
Our second weekend riding through the desolation of the new year is no less doom and gloom than the last one, with a couple new theatrical releases that make the doldrums look like a fun place to be. Luckily there's some alternative viewing destinations available to those who have true grit, so as we nosedive into oblivion remember that in the event of a water landing your seat cushion can be used as a flotation device.
Friday, January 11
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Riding the art house pony into theaters is "Quartet," the directorial debut of Dustin Hoffman. If I said he was a "graduate" of the acting field would you kick me in the balls? Wrinkled thesps Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, Pauline Collins and the ever-irreverent Billy Connolly play retired opera singers living in a home for gifted musicians, presumably with bladder problems. Every year they attempt to perform on Verdi's birthday without having a diabetic emergency on stage, but the reintroduction of Smith to things makes the prospect of this year's concert dicey.
Clearly if you're seeing "Quartet" this weekend you're either of AARP appropriate age or you're a homeless man looking for a dark place to shoot up. If you're the former you might also be interested in "The Iron Lady," premiering at 8 p.m. on Showtime. Meryl Streep added another Oscar to the pile with this biopic of UK PM Maggie Thatcher but left out the scene where Mags signed her contract with Satan.
After you put grandma to bed, you have one of two new releases on DVD to serve as the perfect backdrop as you crack that six-pack of vintage caffeinated Orange Blend Four Loko (12%). Karl Urban will hit you so hard your whole family will die in "Dredd," where he blasts his way through futuristic Mega City One on a motorcycle dispensing sweet juicy justice. That's my kinda people! If you prefer your high-octane thrill ride with a healthy dose of existentialism and a clearly stoned James Taylor, then the Criterion Collection edition of 1971's "Two-Lane Blacktop" is your ticket to ride. Taylor gonna bring da fire and da rain, fool!
Saturday, January 12
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Wake up and mop up that orange-tinged Four Loko puke, cause it's time to go to the movies again. Even though it's the big studio release of the week, a current 43% Rotten Tomatoes rating says "Gangster Squad" has five-dollar, 10 a.m. matinee showing written all over it. The Ruben Fleischer-helmed 1950s L.A. crime saga stars Sean Penn as Sunset kingpin Mickey Cohen, with Josh Brolin and Ryan Gosling as a pair of cops trying to stop a Jewish fella from earning an honest buck. This film was forced to wear the scarlet letter 'B' (for 'Bomb') once a new ending was crudely skin-grafted onto it after the Aurora tragedy. If it were actually anti-Semitic — like if all of Cohen's enforcers wore yalmulkes and their Tommy guns shot dreidels — then the public would REALLY have cause for outrage.
After those fresh young faces play mob war for 90 minutes, you can get your gangster on the Chicago way with Brian De Palma's masterpiece "The Untouchables" on Netflix Instant. Kevin Costner takes goody-two-shoes heroics to new heights, but it's all about Sean Connery as a street-smart flatfoot with a straight-forward worldview: "He pulls a knife, you pull a gun; he sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue." Hells yeah. David Mamet's script overflows with crisp Mamet-y goodness, especially as Robert De Niro's Al Capone espouses the merits of teamwork in baseball by bashing a guy's head into spaghetti sauce.
Something truly criminal would be to pass up the namesake of this column, since AMC has blocked out 1:30 p.m. (12:30c) through 8 p.m. (7c) to present the entire MAD MAX F**KING TRILOGY!!!! First up, Mel Gibson goes all "Death Wish" in the original "Mad Max," then director George Miller reinvents the wheel by putting spikes and fetish leather on it with "The Road Warrior" before finally letting Tina Turner and the midget/Down's syndrome team of Master/Blaster own your ass in "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome." While you're at it, play AMC's Mad Max Trivia Game online, but remember: Two men enter, one man leaves.
If you're not utterly drained after riding the post-apocalyptic fury road with Mr. Max Rockatansky, Mel Gibson's protégé Robert Downey Jr. will kick ass with a British accent in Cinemax's 10 p.m. repeat of the Friday 7:50 premiere of "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows." You don't have to be a world-renowned detective to know that if you keep Skinemax on long enough you're gonna see some boobage, so cap off the night with your lady/man/sentient-being friend to the seductive action of "Sexy Wives Sinsations" at 1:10 a.m.
Sunday, January 13
Last night's "Game of Shadows" may have had you wishing you'd just played Scrabble instead, but this morning New Yorkers are fortunate enough to have the opportunity to catch "The Great Stone Face" himself, Buster Keaton, in a rare theatrical showing of "Sherlock Jr." at 11 a.m. for only $7 smackers thanks to Film Forum. This classic piece of surreal silent comedy boasts one of the most mind-bending bits of camera trickery ever as Buster climbs into a movie screen only to be hilariously waylaid by random editing. You have to see it to believe it, buddy.
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You can scope out this week's much-recommended Survivor of Thunderdome "A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III" through the modern miracle of VOD, ahead of its theatrical release on Feb. 8. Written and directed by Roman "Son of Francis Ford" Coppola, who hasn't directed a movie since 2001's brilliant/underrated "CQ," the film offers us a glimpse inside the vibe of the slimy '70s, where the title womanizing graphic designer (Charlie Sheen) goes through something of a midlife crisis after being dumped by a gal he loved more than he realized. Said crisis involves several Dennis Potter-style flights of fantasy, and Sheen proves a highly likable (or should I say "highly winning") jackass as his character experiences a breakdown not unlike the one the actor went through so publicly a year ago. Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman provide comic relief and moral support in this kitschy oddity, well-timed to coincide Coppola's Best Original Screenplay nomination for "Moonrise Kingdom."
Since we're gettin' all digital and s**t, why not enjoy one more trip into gangland territory with 1997's near-masterpiece "L.A. Confidential" courtesy of Amazon Instant Video for $2.99 (48-hr rental). A pre-"Gladiator" Russell Crowe that could pound the crap out of doughy "Les Miz" Russell Crowe plays a blunt instrument for the 1953 LAPD who teams up with a by-the-book Guy Pearce to tear down police corruption with a wrecking ball. A slightly phony ending is the only sour note in what is otherwise the closest cinematic rival to "Chinatown."
Hulu Streaming provides our final flirtation with extinction-level events gratis this week with 2009's British doc "The Age of Stupid," in which the late, great Pete Postlethwaite (holy s**t that rhymes!) looks back on our time from a devastated 2055.
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 world where you have fast Internet, clean-ish movie theaters, plentiful gasoline and all the comforts of home, for this world lives now only in my memories …