"We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope." – Martin Luther King, Jr.
You said it, Reverend. Greetings from the apocalypse! As we continue our trek across this wind-blasted winter landscape of mediocre cinema, it's important not to toss hope in a ditch like grandma's ashes. Jumpstart the VW bus we found abandoned next to the exploded gas station and let's move onward into the long MLK weekend with our head held high and noseplug firmly secured. It's how the good Doctor would have wanted it.
Friday, January 18
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January is always a dumping ground for crap horror flicks, which is why this week's Survivor of Thunderdome is such a labored breath of fresh air: the Guillermo del Toro-produced frightmare "Mama." Based on a short film from 2008, it chronicles two creepy little tikes discovered living la vida feral in the woods, where they've been under the watchful eye of an 1800s ghost for five years. After moving in with their uncle (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, a.k.a. Kingslayer from "Game of Thrones") and his goth rock girlfriend (Jessica Chastain), the ghost of Mama gets jealous, and when this spectral dame has a temper tantrum she makes Joan Crawford look like Mother Theresa. Director Andres Muschietti cranks up the tension and the title creature is an oedipal nightmare that plays like the doorway ghost from "Poltergeist" with a yeast infection. In a "Crying Game"-style twist, Mama herself is actually played by a skinny dude named Javier Botet, but that won't make her haunt you any less.
If you come out of "Mama" as giddy as I did, you might have a jones for more Euro-Horror, and "Black Sunday" on Netflix Instant is just the ticket. The incomparable "Italian Hitchcock" Mario Bava made his directorial debut with this gruesome tale of vampirism/witchcraft, which was simultaneously old-fashioned and shocking when it dropped in 1960. It starts off with an awesome scene of Barbara Steele enjoying an iron-spiked mask being hammered into her face and just keeps gettin' groovier. A huge influence on Tim Burton.
For you old-fashioned types that like to take the boards off your doors and venture out into the lawless lands, "Taken 2" is sitting in a half-burnt-down Best Buy waiting for you to feed it to your DVD player. The Liam Neeson revenger made so much worldwide bank that the good lord will undoubtedly gift us with "Taken 3: Take My Wife, Please!" co-starring Henry Youngman's skeleton. If an Irishman beating up Albanians isn't your deal, Woody Allen's latest bid to achieve immortality by not dying arrives on DVD/Blu-ray in the form of comedic farce "To Rome With Love."
Those who preside on the west coast (where they turn people's garbage into TV shows) can slide on their horn-rimmed glasses and head to Venice, CA institution Gallery 1988's latest art showcase "The Humorist," a tribute to Woody Allen in all his neurotic glory. For feisty New Yorkers who prefer Batman over the Woodman, Brooklyn Bottleneck Gallery is your Friday destination for the opening reception of "Gizmos and Gadgets" from 7-10 p.m., featuring sweet artistic renderings of the likes of Sigourney Weaver's power loader from "Aliens" or James Bond's Aston Martin. I got yer culture right here, buddy!
Saturday, January 19
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You might still be reeling from all that free art gallery wine, but grab some hair of the dog and haul ass to the theater because Arnold Schwarzenegger is a small-town sheriff making "The Last Stand" at the box office. Herr Governator — and his many muscles — has been absent from our moviegoing lives far too long, so we're going to vote with our dollars to make sure his new "I'm getting too old for this s**t" career phase continues in perpetuity.
Guiding Ahnuld through this new comeback vehicle is Korean maniac Ji-woon Kim, who made such cult faves as "A Tale of Two Sisters" and the awe-inspiring serial killer epic "I Saw the Devil." If you really want a crash course in what this sick puppy director is capable of, check out "The Good, The Bad, The Weird" via Netflix Instant. It's just your basic Sergio Leone-meets-"The Road Warrior" action flick that adds vehicular mayhem and martial arts to the Clint Eastwood gunslinging template.
Then drop that kimchi and switch gears from Gangnam Style to '80s-style as we pay tribute to Ahnuld with an Instant viewing of 1985's "Commando." Some of you who wouldn't know a badass if he hit you need to educate yourselves with this early Schwarzenegger romp that has him throwing phone booths, crunching throats and blowing up anything/one that stands in the way of getting back his daughter, played by Alyssa Milano. Who's the boss NOW?
After that trio of kick-ass cinematics is done giving your eyeballs a happy ending massage of awesomeness, you may have some excess testosterone to burn off, so why not enjoy a friendly game of Bloody Knuckles with your bros? All the rules for this traditional sadistic sport can be found on the website for the World Bloody Knuckles Association, which takes its work in the international arena very seriously.
Sunday, January 20
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Hope your knuckles are properly bandaged, because we've got more from "Mama" impresario Guillermo del Toro this fine Sunday morning as FX presents the original "Hellboy" (2004) at 10:30 a.m. Ron Perlman basically owns this role, not only because he looks like a living cartoon character before the makeup guys do their magic but because he imbued the satanic hero with a blue collar Tom Waits-meets-Humphrey Bogart charm.
Still maintaining the spirit of "Mama," I've got some more children on their own under the sway of an evil entity with 1984's "Children of the Corn" for free via Hulu. This slapdash, sillypants adaptation of a Stephen King short gory, er, story, has the dumbest doctoral candidate ever (a pre-beard stubbled Peter Horton) and his useless girlfriend (Linda "Divorce Settlement" Hamilton) stumbling upon a pseudo-Amish village run exclusively by kids under the sway of "He Who Walks Behind The Rows." That guy turns out to be a really cheesy, '70s "Doctor Who"-style special effect, but the movie stands the test of time as perhaps the quaintest of all King's cinematic oeuvre ... although I can't speak for the seven (7) (SEV-EN!) sequels.
Those of you with who happen to be skiing in Park City, Utah this weekend may want to spend your downtime between slopes at a little event called the Sundance Film Festival. Robert Redford's yearly gathering to promote promising independent films and worship various Native American demon spirits has several promising debuts, including Richard Linklater's Ethan Hawke/Julie Delpy trilogy capper "Before Midnight," the Harry Potter-goes-gay Beat Poet movie "Kill Your Darlings" and doll-faced Amanda Seyfried looking nothing like the "Deep Throat" star in "Lovelace."
Monday, January 21
As we swear in our first black President for his Osama-free second term, it's also a time to remember slain Civil Rights hero (and my fellow Boston University alum, HOLLA!) Martin Luther King, even though his actual birthday party was on January 15. That's right, he waited for hours at the Applebees in heaven, but no one showed up. He's super bummed.
To honor King's legacy, TCM is hosting an all-day tribute to groundbreaking African American actor/director/badass Sidney Poitier, Starting at 6 a.m. and culminating in a chat between Elvis Mitchell and Lawrence Fishburne @ 7:30 p.m. The highlight of Poitier Day is undoubtedly "A Patch of Blue" at 3:30 p.m., in which Sid plays a decent dude who falls in love with a blind white lady (Elizabeth Hartman) only to have her bigoted prostitute mom (Academy Award winner Shelly Winters) not approve of the relationship.
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In theaters you can catch the political drama "Broken City," which though principally cast with Mark Wahlberg as a private dick and Russell Crowe as a sleazeoid, Bloomberg-esque mayor, was made by black director Allen Hughes and features the always intriguing Jeffrey Wright. It's a solid B-noir in the classic tradition, and though it's a bit naïve at times it's got some solid performances in there, and Wright is fantastic.
Finally, if you're in the Washington D.C. area and want to stay as far away from the insanity around Capital Hill, you and up to four guests can grab some free tickets (box office opens at 10:30 a.m.) to a 2 p.m. showing of "King: A Filmed Record … Mongomery to Memphis" at the AFI Silver Theater in Maryland. Poitier, James Earl Jones, Paul Newman and others narrate director Sidney Lumet's tribute to the man and his legacy of infinite hope in the face of finite disappointment.
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 …