We recently heard that the Sharper Image retail chain has stopped accepting its own gift cards. The Sharpies aren’t denying the validity of the cards; they simply maintain it’s not in their best interest to honor them until the economy improves. So anybody who was planning on using company plastic to score a nuclear-powered neck massager can forget about it, at least until Bush leaves office.

Believe it or not, this is great news for filmgoers far and wide. Since Image central has established the novel precedent that respecting a business commitment is completely contingent on a favorable economy, you the humble citizen are now free to pay whatever you want for movies – or nothing at all! The next time you get caught trying to sneak into the 3:15 of Fool’s Gold, you can explain that you knew the going ticket price was $9.50, but that you just haven’t got it. And that until your ship comes back in, your discretionary income has to go toward the staples, like groceries and street narcotics.

A few reasons to claim hardship this week:

Opening in theaters

Doomsday Rhona Mitra may just outdo Kate Beckinsale for the title of Crap-Action Heroine of the New Millennium. In a country that’s been under walled-off quarantine for three decades, Mitra’s special-agent character does battle with a bunch of feral extras straight out of ’80s central casting. Writer/director Neil Marshall (The Descent) has to be hoping like mad you don’t remember Escape From New York. Or Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Or the 11th grade. (Opens wide Friday, March 14)

Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who Theodor Geisel’s classic children’s book has been interpreted as an allegorical protest against the dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan. We mention that only because you’re going to need something remotely weighty to focus on while voice stars Jim Carrey and Steve Carell hammer Geisel’s timeless prose with “updated” quips. At least the animated look seems closer to the Seussian oeuvre than was live-action offal like The Cat in the Hat. (Opens wide Friday, March 14)

Never Back Down It’s a red-letter day when a major motion picture is shot in Orlando. It gives one hope that the area’s future as a filmmaking capital didn’t die with the “Hollywood East” fiasco of the 1990s. So to fully respect the achievement that is Never Back Down – which wasn’t just lensed but actually takes place here – we thought we’d dispense with our armchair quarterbacking for a moment and quote the film’s official promo materials: “Set against the action-packed world of Mixed Martial Arts … ” Oh, hey, that was fun. (Opens wide Friday, March 14)

You might even want to consider paying for:

Funny Games Going Gus Van Sant’s Psycho one better, Austrian trickster Michael Haneke mounts a shot-by-shot remake of his own 1997 domestic shocker, which subjects a suburban family to a night of torture at the hands of two fresh-faced psychopaths. One of the best encapsulations of the original we’ve read called it “indefensible” – and that was in a positive report! You can bet we’ll be camping out for this. (Opens Friday, March 14, at Regal Winter Park Village Stadium 20 and AMC Pleasure Island 24)

City of Men Initial notices have been lukewarm at best on Fernando Meirelles’ latest Brazilian street opera, a sort-of spinoff from the TV series that was kind of a sequel to his life-changing City of God. So it’s only the third cousin of godhead … isn’t that closer than we usually get? (Opens Friday, March 14, at Regal Winter Park Village Stadium 20)


Available Tuesday, March 18:

Southland Tales The term “sophomore jinx” was invented for movies like Richard Kelly’s follow-up to Donnie Darko, in which an ensemble cast led by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson navigates the metaphysical fallout of the end of the world. The Detroit News called it “immature, crude, poorly made and a waste of time.” But cheer up, Rich! Soderbergh was savaged for Kafka, and look how rich and insufferable he went on to be. (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

Love in the Time of Cholera Star Javier Bardem’s recent Oscar win – admittedly, not for this picture – may stir up extra interest in this adaptation of the Gabriel García Márquez novel, in which a 19th-century Colombian beds hundreds of women in an attempt to get over a thwarted romance. Speaking of which, have we mentioned that Gene Simmons has a sex tape out? (New Line Home Video)


Released Friday, March 14:

Mr. Bean It’s like Whac-a-Mole for anybody who’s ever been stuck watching PBS on a Saturday night. (Blast! Entertainment Ltd., for Nintendo DS)


Released Tuesday, March 18:

Electric Apricot: Quest for Festeroo The companion CD to Les Claypool’s jam-rock mockumentary dares to ask the musical question, “Hey, Are You Going to Burning Man?” (Hip-O Records)

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