A Life In Indie Video Stores

By Dennis.

In my life I’ve worked in two video stores for a total of nearly twenty years. One for about seven years just out of college and the other for the last dozen or so. There was a gap in between, so you do the math. (I may not be young.) Apart from, one might realistically speculate, a singular lack of career ambition, there’s a simple reason why I’ve chosen that particular employment for so long. I’m good at it, and I’m at home there. For as long as I can remember anything about myself, I’ve been drawn to movies. I don’t have any unique insight into why that is—it’s just a fact. And so, like the kid who, for whatever reason, discovers he likes to read early and therefore is afforded undue praise for having read more books than his peers, I’ve always been one or more steps ahead of everyone else I knew when it came to movies. I’d seen more, read more, and spent more time thinking about them.
And so I fit right in when the two brothers who, despite seeing their startup Maine video store as more of a business opportunity (not a crazy idea in the early 90s) than any labor of their collective love of cinema, saw me renting more movies than anyone else in the first year they were open, it was only natural that they’d ask me to be their first employee. And only natural that, newly-minted English degree aside, I would leave my chain bookstore job to work the counter for them. As I worked there, they gradually ceded much of the ordering for the store to my advice, especially when it came to the indie/foreign/weirdo stuff that was my passion (and their calling card in a decade packed with nondescript chain stores all trying to pull in customers with nothing but the newest-latest). It was a good time, even if I (and another, younger movie geek they hired) cajoled them into never selling off a single title even as the already cramped store became clogged with never-rented VHS copies of Rainer Werner Fassbender films and obscure 70s forgettables (the James Caan/Sally Kellerman flick Slither, “from the writer of The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension!” somehow sticks in my mind). It was less good when business began to slow (largely due to the chain store glut), and devastating (at least to me and the other film geek) when the brothers announced they’d accepted an offer to sell out to the truly second-rate Video Galaxy chain (of the Minnesota Vikings formica color scheme and the notoriously huge porn room) when representatives told them that, buyout or no, the chain was opening a branch in an abandoned restaurant a block away. Rather than risking their kids’ college funds on a business already in decline, and for which they never had the passion of their employees anyway, they moved over, managing the shiny, garish new chain store and convincing us to come along with vague promises that we could still do things they way we always had.

Of course, that wasn’t how things were. I remember us faxing page after handwritten page of title info to Video Galaxy HQ because fully 50% of our library titles were unknown to the hundreds of stores in the chain, our heretofore beloved library of movies mouldering in the boxes we’d mournfully packed them in months before until someone, somewhere, did the data entry to make them rentable again.
I lasted a few months, studiously not wearing the embarrassing yellow-with-checkered-flag polo shirt uniform (and no doubt costing our bosses countless secret shopper demerits in the process) and trying to convince our wary erstwhile customers that we were still us, even as we clearly, and increasingly obviously weren’t. (I remember getting into a screaming fight with some guy who dared to suggest that we’d sold out, chasing him out of the store with my defiant words even as I knew he was right—if an asshole-about it.) When I couldn’t take it any more, I gave my notice, hid some huge, fancy beers in the soda cooler on my last night, and tried to leave a parting message (carefully considered for maximum snottiness) on the stupid letter-board under the stupid glowing neon store sign in the parking lot. Except that I, never adept at using the extendable pole-and-suction-cup thingy to change the sign, was unable to spell out “MOVIES STILL MATTER,” before the cup broke off, leaving an even more meaningless, vowel-less Scrabble rack of nonsense to confuse passers-by the next day.
Years went by, with a marriage, a teaching gig, a divorce, the dissolution of the experimental school I’d given my all to (anyone sensing a pattern here would not be inaccurate), until I found myself, post-divorce and post another almost-marriage, cast, bewildered, broke, and shattered, personally and professionally down the coast in Portland, Maine.
Where, inevitably, I found work at another video store. Videoport. It was the larger, more-established, and all-around more respected granddaddy of the startup I’d worked at before and I saw myself, as much experience as I’d had in other areas of my life, like an aging prospect finally being called up from the minors into The Show. With literally nothing else going on and my confidence and self-worth down to fumes, I threw myself into my new job with renewed enthusiasm, and optimism. I loved and looked up to my new coworkers (even though most were younger than I) and felt, for the first time since everything’d fallen apart, at home again.
I still work there, some decade or more later (I’m not good with time). And sure, many of those initial peers have left, although a surprising number remain—it really is a good gig. And yes, most definitely, I had (and have, to a lesser extent as time goes on) the occasional, if figurative, head-butt with customers I feel insufficiently respect what I feel we’re trying to do here. And certainly business is not remotely what it once was, when the guidelines for getting hours was so magnanimous that it could be summed up as, “if you want hours, just come in as long as you’re actually doing some real work” to a rigidly micromanaged skeleton roster ever redesigned by The Boss to squeeze every necessary buck by never having a superfluous body, ever.
We’re battling against Netflix, Redbox, cable, streaming on the internet—who knows, probably some other alternative methods of entertainment I don’t even know about yet, but we’re hanging tough. The Boss, steering the ship from his office sanctum in the back, has been doing this for more than a quarter-century, and we are at his mercy. A carefully cultivated remove discourages direct queries about the store’s future, and, frankly, I think we remaining employees are okay with that. We just keep our eyes forward, work our asses off, and generally try to make the whole enterprise as successful and sustainable as possible, hoping that our efforts will overachieve enough each day to keep our store viable—for at least another year. We like The Boss, although his signature combination of toothy cheeriness, aloofness, and inscrutability is, by design or not, a perfect recipe for keeping us all on edge. The Boss is a weird guy (and yes, I know he’ll eventually read this), but he’s been doing this a long, long time, our fate is in his hands, and, for as much as it can be a daily challenge to guess what the hell he’s thinking, we trust him.
For, as much as it’s clearly and indisputably a labor of love to keep an independent video store (“DVD store” just doesn’t have the same ring) afloat these days, it’s also a business, the primary source of income for him and his family. And The Boss, for all his indisputable, if largely unexpressed, movie love, is a f***ing shark when it comes to business ruthlessness.
I look at it like the Faulkner quote: The Boss is prepared to kill his darlings. And while we of the clerkish unwashed might imagine that his hour-and-paycheck shrinking means we’re his darlings, what that really means is that The Boss is willing to let some movies go. While co-clerk and bully and I successfully kept the brothers from ever selling off a single title ever (“But someone is gonna come in looking for Three the Hard Way and we’re not gonna have it and then they’re gonna think we suck”) even thought he shelves were packed to groaning, I was aghast at the beginning of my tenure in the major leagues when I saw the sale bin peppered with titles that meant that the store didn’t own them any more!? Sure, most of them were marginal-to-negligible (I remember marveling that the store had ever owned that Woody Allen/Mia Farrow TV biopic in the first place), but occasionally there would turn up something I saw, in my never-diminished movie absolutism, as indispensable. I vividly remember being in the throes of a full-fledged anxiety episode when I saw a few shabbily-packaged (possibly of shady origin) Mike Leigh TV movies go into the bin not long after starting there and asking a coworker, shakily, if “this sort of thing happens all the time.” Said coworker (who’d briefly worked in the brothers’ store years before, and knew my feeling on the subject) said, with admirably concealed pity, “You know—this store is never going to have the sort of collection you want.” I, perhaps not at my best (my life being shattered as it was), took this gentle reminder of the way the world works absurdly hard. I remember actually thinking about quitting. (Again- Dennis not in a good place.) But gradually I came to understand the way the world, or at least The Store, worked, and still survives to this day.
Now it’s not that The Boss was thoughtless about letting movies go from his collection. It’s just that, well, there are a number of factors that a hard-headed video store boss learned to deal with over the years, which is why The Store is literally (apart from a tiny concern that’s also an ice cream parlor and a post office—and no, I’m not kidding) the only video store, chain or otherwise, left in the not inconsiderable city of Portland.
One is, of course, a matter of space. The Store is big enough-a cramped and dusty basement, sure, but ample shelf space for some 40,000 movies (at least since the mercifully thinner DVDs have supplanted bulky VHS). But, well, they keep making more movies, (and TV shows, the long-running of which can take up the space of 50 or more movies), and some stuff has just got to make way. Sure, The Boss, for an admirably long time, kept an ever-growing stockpile of never-renting obscure VHS in the back room, unseen and waiting for that one customer to request it like the one-eared puppy at the pound. (For

We have it on Criterion now.

We have it on Criterion now.

some reason this time it’s Shohei Imamura’s The Insect Woman, of the terrible VHS transfer and nigh-unreadable white-on-black-and-white subtitles, that sticks in mind.) But fester they did in the small storeroom until even that unused space was filled up and they, at least those who never even got a single pity-rent, hit the sale bin (from which I, literally, averted my eyes on bad days). Eventually the practice ended, without a word from The Boss, entirely. His motto, let loose on a rare occasion, was that “a movie has to pay its rent.” Those that didn’t found their way onto the shelves of nostalgic, or delighted, cinemaphiles. Where they gathered dust.
As The Store has marched (and eventually limped) on, the pattern has continued, and we of the front counter have developed our own strategies to cope with it. Every once in a while, according to an irregular schedule only The Boss knows, a printed list shows up out front. Marked “pull list,” causing us (well, me definitely) to clench up and peer ruefully at the names of the damned. It’s unclenching all around when we see that it’s just time to cull extra copies of the last year’s declining multiples (adios all but two copies of Pirates of the Caribbean 4!), but glances askance when we see the dreaded real title pulls, which mean that that’s the last we’ll see of some things. Such a task was anathema to me when I first started, but as I became used to the rhythms of The Store and The Boss, I’ve come to accept these cleansing rituals as a part of life.
Not that we don’t have our own little schemes to undermine the process should the need arise, of course. At first I was surreptitiously fanatical about subverting this (as I saw it) outrage: I’d deliberately overlook some titles I wanted to spare and then, when that didn’t work, I’d just cross out titles directly on the list itself, thinking The Boss would think he’d done so. When that didn’t work either, sometimes I’d just slip the recently shrink-wrapped tapes off the sale rack, unwrap ‘em and put them back out to rent, assuming he’d never notice, at least until the next batch of underachievers was up for the chop. That worked better, but eventually I came to concede the point and pick my battles. Simply put, there was no place to save every movie The Store had ever stocked and, as I grew older and theoretically wiser (and perhaps wasn’t any longer tying my sense of self worth into a video store as my post-life-annihilation me had done) I came to, still ruefully, accept the fact that, perhaps heretically, some movies just don’t deserve to be saved. (We’re currently lock in an unspoken war over Love Jones, one of the only decent black-cast romantic comedy/dramas—I’ve unwrapped and snuck it twice. We’ll see how it goes…)
(And of course The Boss knew what we were doing: the guy has been intimately involved in every aspect of his business for 26 years—you think he’s not going to notice that this is the third time he’s seen The Black Marble turn up on a list because it hasn’t rented in two years? I remember when our inventory guy, a backroom-only little troll about whom there are way too many stories to go into here, had himself pulled two VHS-only Robert Altman films [Come Back To The Five And Dime Jimmy Dean Jimmy Dean being one, as I recall] and Altman disciple I, thinking that The Boss had ordered the outrage, asked him directly to spare them. He said to me, with that unreadably toothy smile, “I assumed you’ll just do what you always do” before striding back to his office again.)
As reserved and, yeah odd, as he can be, The Boss is no dummy. He knows that his loyal customer base is that loyal through the years because they respect the selection and look for the different. So when it’s time to let things go, he, as unsentimental as he may seem, will inexplicably allow a few complete under-performers to escape the shrink-wrapper. We of the front will see something like Out Of The Blue disappear out back with a box full of crappily-packaged foreign nonentities (goodbye, The Wounds) only to see it reappear on the shelf sans explanation in a week or so. Sometimes he’ll shift it, if remotely applicable, to another section to try its luck there: a nonstarter in the “Assorted Asian Exploitation” section like The Demon might get a reprieve in the Foreign section proper. Or Bury Me An Angel (with Joe Bob Briggs commentary track!) might shift from standard “Action” to our “Incredibly Strange Section,” at least for another year. Sometimes The Boss’ decisions seem to have no reason behind them: Then we wonder if that seeming VHS bootleg of Zontar: The Thing From Venus has some secret sentimental value to the man, or if its just escaped his notice for a decade. He’s that kind of guy.

And so we of the front make our little stands and sneak our little schemes according to our own soft spots, our own personal reasons. I’ve saved Manny and Lo (a lightly charming if forgettable indie starring a young ScarJo) more than once because it’s included in Kenneth Turan’s book Never Coming To A Theater Near You and I want us to have it in case someone else reads that (very good) book of overlooked movies and asks for it. Because they’ll be impressed, and they’ll become a loyal customer. And my friends and I can keep on working with each other in this weird, increasingly-anachronistic store until we want to leave, and not because some goddamned vending machine in a convenience store parking lot finally saps away that last customer that breaks The Boss’ spirit. That’s why.
It’s a unique function of the lowly video clerk (we’ll never be “DVD clerks”) to determine what entertainment lives and what dies. Sure, it’s only on the smallest of scales on the surface of things, but if you’ve been around this world as long as I have it’s not hard to see our deceptive impact. Of course we recommend movies. As customers get to know us, or even if they don’t, we have a surprising amount of sway over what people take home. What they come to love, and tell their friends about. And then they come back to us for more. Any video geek worth his free rentals is adept at delving—at gleaning just enough information about what exactly a customer is in the mood for—that we can shape the course of not only their evening but their developing movie taste. It’s a delicate art, and not everyone is good at it—just imposing your own taste on someone guarantees disillusionment and eventual averted glances.
I’m great at it. It’s not that hard: You just have to listen to the operative words and often implied sentiments in the customer’s descriptions and then you let your knowledge open doors that they haven’t seen before. You know, because they don’t spend every damned day of their lives thinking about movies almost to the exclusion of all else. Match your tone to theirs, really listen to what they’re asking for, and then start recommending things that match those criteria, even if only at right angles. They’ll love you for it, and they’ll come back. To you, and The Store, forever. When that happens, it’s like ink dropped on tissue paper: You can actually feel your influence ensuring some films remain in the public consciousness while others, unloved by those out front, sink into oblivion, and eventually that bargain bin from whence no copy of Kickin’ It Old School returns. For insignificant lowest cogs in the vast entertainment machine, ours is a stealthy, gradual, grassroots marketing influence, but as the years pass by and some films and TV shows fade in the public consciousness, it’s our collective (if disappearing) hectoring, cajoling (and don’t forget simple “facing out”) that makes the difference for the marginal. When a video clerk vanishes, so does his/her championed arsenal of those “interesting, little indie movies” that, when people are looking for things of that description, he/she always has at the ready.
I’m why we still carry Police Beat. That’s why Choose Me goes out, I’ m guessing, more at The Store than at any (remaining) video store in the world. That’s why we carry two copies of Local Hero, because when people ask me what my favorite movie of all time is, I hand one to them and just say “Trust me.” I’ve been thanked for introducing couples to The Wire like I’d delivered their first baby in the back of a cab, and my colleague Regan*, hater of all sport, but especially football, leverages that fact to twist people’s arms into watching Friday Night Lights (for which they are, ultimately and effusively, grateful).
If I were an indie filmmaker, I’d cultivate relationships with stores like ours. Okay- maybe a bunch of opinionated wage slaves (note: The Boss actually pays us quite well) isn’t going to make any difference to money machines like James Cameron, but I know for a fact that Andy** talks to people about Sisters more than Brian DePalma does at this point. There was a time when we were the only store in the Northeast that carried all of Russ Meyer’s movies, and Meyer, since he distributed most of his films himself, would regularly call and make sure that we had them all in stock. (They lived, and live, happily disreputable still, in that Incredibly Strange section.) We of the independent video store continue to care, continue to champion. We love what we love, from that ubiquitous billion dollar smash to that straight-to-DVD sleeper that, somehow, sometime, maybe inexplicably moved us, touched us, made us feel all funny in our swimsuit area at just the right time, and we can keep those movies alive. We pass them on, our secret loves, our secret shames, the scruffy little underdogs that, sometimes just for a brief, flickering moment, made us feel in a way that only a movie can do.
And so we hang on, hoping against hope that the inexorable march of technology will spare us for yet one more year. We watch, we talk, we laugh and write and recommend, and sometimes we just say, “trust me—this one will change your life.”
For all it’s silliness, it’s mundanity, and people who just won’t stop touching the shiny side of a goddamned DVD…
It’s not a bad way to make a living. You should come and check us out sometime.

*Regan doesn’t work here anymore because you didn’t rent here enough.

**Andy hardly works here anymore because you didn’t rent here enough.

Published in: on September 30, 2014 at 3:07 am  Comments (4)  
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VideoReport #475

Volume CDLXXV- Portland, Texas

For the Week of 9/23/14

(Click the pics for more reviews!)

Videoport gives you a free movie every, single day. And reminds you that choosing a local, independent movie store like, say, us is good for the soul.

Middle Aisle Monday! Take a free rental from the Science Fiction, Horror, Incredibly Strange, Popular Music, Mystery/Thriller, Animation, or Staff Picks sections with any other paid rental! OR Get any three non-new releases for seven days for $7.99!

>>> Emily S. Customer suggests watching some forbidden films! Banned Films Week!  To mark Banned Books week, Sept. 21-27, Videoport presents a collection of films based on banned, censored, or challenged books, and a handful of original films that faced similar challenges upon release. First up: Brokeback Mountain. A wealthy donor offered Austin’s St. Andrew’s School a six-figure endowment to remove Proulx’s Brokeback Mountain from their recommended reading list. St. Andrew’s refused the money… and kept the book on its list. Predictably, the film of Brokeback Mountain faced similar protests from Focus on the Family, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops raised BrokeBackMountain’s Film and Broadcasting Office rating from L (for films “Limited” to adult audiences) to O (for “Offensive”). A Salt Lake City theater removed the film from its slot, with the owner claiming that it was “dangerous” in its portrayal of love between two men. The Today Show’s critic Gene Shalit decries one of Brokeback’s protagonists as “a sexual predator,” for which GLAAD criticized him, pointing out that audiences and critics view heterosexual star-crossed lovers as romantic and heartbreaking. None of this controversy prevents Brokeback Mountain from a record-breaking per-theater gross during its opening weekend, nor from raking in prestigious awards, including a Best Director Oscar for Ang Lee.

Tough and Triassic Tuesday! Give yourself a free rental from the Action or Classics section with any other paid rental! OR Get any three non-new releases for seven days for $7.99!                

>>> Dennis suggests getting some serious free money at Videoport! You’re gonna spend your entertainment dollars with us, so why not get some free ones? No reason not to. $20 buys you $25 in store credit and $30 buys you $40. Boom—free money. Do that.

Wacky and Worldly Wednesday! You’ve got a free rental coming from the Comedy or Foreign Language sections with any other paid rental! OR Get any three non-new releases for seven days for $7.99!                                                                      

>>> Dennis suggests We Are The Best! (in Foreign Language). Swedish director Lukas Moodysson’s sure-to-be crowd-pleasing new film “We Are The Best!” is a lot of things—coming-of-age story, a tale of female friendship and solidarity, a rock movie. But most gratifyingly, it’s a return to early form for Moodysson, a filmmaker whose first films were some of the most perceptively warm and humanistic anywhere, but whose more recent output has tipped over into soul-crushing bleakness. “We Are The Best!” resembles nothing so much as Moodysson’s first film “Show Me Love,” a lovely, funny, and generous-hearted love story about two very different small-town Swedish girls who find the escape they’re seeking in each other. Set in 1983 Stockholm, “We Are The Best!” finds seventh grade outcast best friends Bobo (watchful, bespectacled Mira Barkhammar) and vocal, impulsive Klara (bright-eyed Mira Grosin) bonding over their outsider status, self-chopped haircuts, and defiant love of punk music, which has begun to wane in their peers’ estimation. (They stare in disbelief at a school dance recital set to The Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me.”) Declaring themselves a punk band, largely to spite the mean boys playing loudly at the local teen center, the girls quickly recruit another outcast, the quiet, religious Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne) when they see her defiantly perform a classical guitar number in front of braying classmates at the same talent show. And so, with one member who knows how to play an instrument, a broken down bass and drum set, and all the attitude a trio of just-teenaged girls can muster, the girls forge an unlikely friendship which is as sweet, rude, and funny as any in recent memory. Moodysson’s follow up to “Show Me Love” was the equally charitable “Together,” about a disparate group of adults living in a modern-day commune. There, too, the director’s view of people was clear-eyed but generous, finding sympathy for everyone, even as they screwed up. After that, in the heart-wrenchingly bleak teen prostitution drama “Lilya 4 Ever” and the even more hopeless pornography drama “A Hole In My Heart” (never available in America), Moodysson seemed to have gazed too far over the edge and decided that the world is just too unforgiving of human weakness for anything like a happy ending. Thankfully, “We Are The Best!,” while maintaining the director’s edgy immediacy (it’s shot largely hand-held), looks into the lives of Bobo, Klara, and Hedvig and not only forgives their youthful errors, but loves them for them. I did too. A running theme in Moodysson’s work is how precarious the world can be for young women. And while this film never spills over into the darkness his more recent films have, that undercurrent of unease informs every aspect of “We Are The Best!” The girls’ simmering resentment (over unhappy home lives, jerk boys, judgmental peers, and condescending adults) is what draws them to each other—and to the raw, exuberant protest of punk music. And, as they navigate the traps of being young and inexperienced, their growing solidarity is absolutely winning, especially in the hands of the three remarkable young actresses. Based on a graphic novel by Moodysson’s wife Coco, the film treats its protagonists without sentimentality but with complete sympathy—the lessons they learn as they try find their musical voice (with hilarious accuracy, their first song is about how stupid sports are) aren’t hammered home, but are more striking because of it. (After Bobo and Klara get in trouble for urging the conventional Hedvig to cut her hair like theirs, their confrontation ends with Klara exclaiming, “Learn to say no when you don’t want something!”) And their final response to a provincial audience’s abuse at their first public performance is about as punk as you can get—while remaining hearteningly, movingly sweet. As rambunctious as they get (watch the closing credits), the girl rockers of “We Are The Best!” are utterly, defiantly loveable. So’s the movie.

Thrifty Thursday! Rent one, get a free rental from any other section in the store! OR Get any three non-new releases for seven days for $7.99!                                       

 >>> Emily S. Customer continues her tour of Banned movies with Monty Python’s Life Of Brian (in The Criterion Collection)> Banned for years in Ireland (and for a year in Norway, leading to its Swedish promotion touting it as “The film so funny it was banned in Norway!”) and picketed throughout the U.S. and England, Life of Brian was greeted (by people who’d never seen it) as blasphemy. It’s important to note that Life of Brian is not a satire of the life of Jesus, but a parallel story of an unwitting, unwilling false messiah pursued by devout believers trying to thrust him into a position of spiritual power. Brian of Nazareth (Graham Chapman bringing every gawky inch of his towering talent into play), born one stable over from Jesus on the same day, joins a band of would-be revolutionaries opposing the long-term Roman occupation of Judea. Like so many revolutionary organizations before and after them, the People’s Front of Judea spend most of their time and energy bickering and in-fighting instead of working for real social change. When Brian is misidentified as the Messiah, he has not only to avoid persecution by Pontius Pilate and the powers of the state, but also the internecine squabbling of assorted schism groups putatively devoted to following him. It’s not a satire about Christ, but a satire about the appeal of following and the faults of followers and statesmen alike.

Free Kids Friday! One free rental from the Kids section, no other rental necessary! OR get any three non-new releases for a week for $7.99!          

>>> Videoport has a new special! Maybe you noticed that the heading for every single daily special is different. If so—well done. You should have your own Psych-type show where you’re very observant all the time. Regardless, here’s the new deal— NOW you can get 3 movies for a week for $7.99 EVERY SINGLE DAY! I know, right!? Also, on a specifically Friday vibe—we’ve put a ton of new stuff into the family section. Like, a lot of high-quality stuff. Now the part you might not like as much—all rentals at Videoport (including kids movies) are $3.50. Yeah, kids movies are now the same price as everything else, but you can still get a free movie from the kids section every Friday, no other rental necessary, no questions asked. And, now there are tons more movies packing that section for you to choose from. Be cool, everybody—Videoport’s got you covered, as always.

Having a Wild Weekend! Rent two movies, and get a third one for free from any section! OR get any three non-new releases for a week for $7.99!                                            

>>>For Saturday, Emily S. Customer continues her appreciation of banned movies with Beloved (in Feature Drama). Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel has been challenged a number of times in attempts to remove it from school curricula and reading lists all over the U.S.: In Ohio, Florida, Illinois, Idaho, Kentucky, Texas, and right here in Maine, Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel has faced challenges to remove it from curricula, libraries, and reading lists, with complaints about its subject matter and language. Surely the story of a former slave faced with the terrible choice to return her children to a state of slavery is one which brooks some painful language, necessary to describe the horrors of that life. The 1998 film adaptation starring Oprah Winfrey, Danny Glover, and Thandie Newton is admittedly a tempered version of the story, but it still garnered praise for its performances and moving story.

>>>For Sunday, Videoport customer Abby L. suggests Palindromes (in Incredibly Strange). If you’re looking for something to do tonight, how about a good old-fashioned Todd Solondz soul-pummeling? For those unfamiliar with Solondz’ work, 2004’s Palindromes offers a mind-altering introduction to the writer-director’s jet-black worldview. To those who’ve already witnessed his cinematic, shall we say, risks: this was the Solondz film that couldn’t find a major studio to back it. Which isn’t to say Palindromes is any more or less shocking, say, Happiness or Storytelling, rather, it more directly attacks the pillars of the American identity, namely our perceived responsibility to procreate and the piety with which we view reproduction. Almost everyone will be uncomfortable watching Palindromes; those who are adventurous and armed with a cynical enough sense of humor will enjoy dissecting why. The film follows Aviva, a 13-year-old on a mission to get pregnant who eventually hits the road as a runaway and winds up as a sort-of Alice in Wonderland in the sordid post-9/11 American cultural landscape. Among the most daring choices in a film comprised almost entirely of daring (and many off-putting) choices is the revolving-door casting approach of its main character. Aviva is played by 8 different actors of varying ages, races, genders and sizes. It’s a decision that some may consider a gimmick intended to capitalize on shock value and provide a sarcastic visual sight gag. To others, it’s a stunt that pays off. By stripping its lead character of the traits considered central to one’s identity, Palindromes ponders the interconnectedness of its characters. At one point in the film a character wonders aloud, “How many times can I be born again?” That line is a brilliant encapsulation of the film’s premise, a skewering of both the sentimental evangelical Christian worldview and the meaningless cycle of birth and death created when the importance of being a vessel for more humans is elevated above all other elements of the human experience. Aviva’s flowery, middle-class pubescent existence is a direct primer for her loss of innocence on her path to becoming an empty-headed, baby-obsessed breeder zombie. Perhaps one day, Palindromes will earn its rightful place near the top of the Solondz canon. It was probably too nervy for the time it was released. The film is as potent a time capsule for the George W. Bush era as any that came out at the time. Beneath Solondz’ merciless satire is an emphatic critique of the treatment of young women in a fundamentally misogynistic culture. It’s also probably the best way to experience a laugh, a groan and a gasp at the same time.

New Releases this week at Videoport: The Rover (Great-looking action thriller from Down Under, with Guy Pearce playing a hardened loner tracking down the bad guys who stole his car—after a global economic collapse has turned the world into a Mad Max-esque wasteland. Costarring that vampire guy from those Twilight movies—although I hear he does a good job here…), Neighbors (Seth Rogen and that other little teen star who everyone says actually does a good job here [Zac Efron] costar in this crude, rude comedy about a nice couple whose life is turned all upside down and so forth when a fraternity movies into the house next door. Wackiness promises to ensue.), Brooklyn Nine Nine- season 1 (This is a funny, funny show. Andy Samberg plays a wiseass copper in the titular precinct and he’s absolutely surrounded by funny people as his workmates. Joe LoTruglio, Terry Crews, Stephanie Beatriz, Melissa Fumero, Chelsea Peretti, and the great Andre Braugher all stake out their comic territory. Braugher, especially, is a revelation, playing Samberg’s no-nonsense boss with an impeccable deadpan awesomeness.), Panty & Stocking With Garterbelt- season 1 (New anime series! So there are these two sisters who are sort of like angels? Except they get kicked out of heaven for being too wild and destructive, and wearing lingerie all the time? And they go to a city full of ghosts and fight the ghosts, but sometimes have sex with the ghosts? Oh, and their lingerie can turn into, like, chainsaws and bazookas? Oh Japan—never, ever change. Please? For me?), Key & Peele- season 3 (This is the best sketch comedy show in more than a decade [since The Upright Citizens Brigade, if you must know], so you should probably go ahead and rent it. Jordan Peele and Keegan Michael Key are two of the best comic actors on TV. The sketches are smart and silly and very, very funny. I cannot emphasize enough how much you should be watching this show right now. That is all.), Sharknado (It’s a tornado made of sharks. This is a movie that exists.), Modern Family- season 5 (You guys like this show. More power to you.), We Are The Best! (Really good new foreign film from director Lukas Moodysson [Show Me Love, Together, Lilya 4-Ever]—read Dennis’ review for Wednesday in this very newsletter!), Ida (Acclaimed film [it played at last year’s Maine Jewish Film Festival] about a devout Catholic nun who discovers that’s she’s actually Jewish.), Jimi Hendrix: Hear My Train A’Comin’ (Documentary about Jimi Hendrix, people. What more could you want?), Postman Pat: The Movie (Long a kids’ favorite in England, Videoport brings you the first feature film about that cartoon postman that little Brits love!), The Signal (Great reviews on this indie sci fi flick about a group of computer hackers who…well, I’ve been told the twists and turns are most of the fun of this one, so I’ll stop there. The great Laurence Fishburne is in it, though—that much I can tell you.)

New Arrivals This Week At Videoport: Seizure! (Head to the Incredibly Strange section, where Oliver Stone’s first movie rightly resides! Starring the guy from Dark Shadows as a writer being menaced in trippy fashion by a sexy dame, a bodybuilder and Herve Villecheize. It makes no sense!)

New Arrivals on Blu-Ray This Week At Videoport: Panty & Stocking With Garterbelt- season 1, The Rover, The Birdcage, The Signal

Published in: on September 24, 2014 at 12:08 am  Leave a Comment  
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VideoReport #474

Volume CDLXXIV- From Portland With Love

For the Week of 9/16/14

(Click the pics for more reviews!)

Videoport gives you a free movie every single day. So, every day you come into Videoport, we’re going to say, “Hey—do you want another movie for free?” So you’ve got that going for you…which is nice.

Middle Aisle Monday! Take a free rental from the Science Fiction, Horror, Incredibly Strange, Popular Music, Mystery/Thriller, Animation, or Staff Picks sections with any other paid rental! OR Get any three non-new releases for seven days for $7.99!

>>> Emily S. Customer suggests Candyman (in Horror). School is back in session, and that means it’s time for some back-to-school scares. Candyman tells the story of Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen), a frustrated grad student. Her thesis on the uncanny Candyman legend haunting Chicago’s Cabrini Green keeps getting stalled: by indifferent evidence, by bureaucratic delays, and by the blithe dismissal of her academic advisors and mentors. Incidentally, she lives with one of those advisors, which isn’t necessarily a career-damning move, but when the professor you’re sleeping with is played by professional cad Xander Berkeley… well, Helen, things don’t look too bright for you.

Tough and Triassic Tuesday! Give yourself a free rental from the Action or Classics section with any other paid rental! OR Get any three non-new releases for seven days for $7.99!

>>> Dennis suggests Ninotchka (in Classics). Co-written by Billy Wilder (Some Like It Hot, The Apartment) and directed by 1930s comedy all-star Ernst Lubitsch (Trouble In Paradise, The Shop Around The Corner) this comedy romance was hyped back (way back) in the day for being the movie where languorous screen legend Greta Garbo finally loosened up and had some fun. (“Garbo laughs!” screamed the tagline, proving that movie marketing people have been the same since there were movies to make up dumb taglines about.) And while she, as the humorless Russian bureaucrat sent to settle the sale of a cache of confiscated Tsarist jewelry in Paris does eventually goof around to good effect—she has a drunk scene, wears a funny hat, even has a pretty convincing giggle fit in a restaurant—the real treat for me was seeing a movie from so long ago incorporate real world political stuff into a lightweight comedy just as a matter of course. That’s not surprising, really—Lubitsch was always pushing against the boundaries of propriety—but there’s a lot going on in Ninotchka. The three bearded Russian functionaries sent to smooth the way for Garbo are played for laughs as they are immediately seduced by Parisian decadence—but their banter is also full of matter-of-fact talk of class, politics, and the Russian revolution (which was of not-that-distant memory). Garbo’s monotone humorlessness in the face of foppish Melvyn Douglas’ annoying attentions is played for a joke, but while her eventual softening is inevitable, she never quite abandons her politics, either. Douglas (in a role crying out for William Powell instead) is the fun loving playboy we’re meant to identify with—but his wastrel ways are held up for serious criticism, and identified with the worst excesses of capitalism. The exiled Russian countess scheming to break up Garbo and Douglas and get her jewels back from the Soviets turns pretty villainous—but she’s allowed to show the righteous anger of the aristocracy who’ve been forced out of their country and had their property appropriated in the name of the revolution. There’s even a pre-WWII throwaway joke about a frumpy German couple greeting each other at the Paris train station with a hearty “Heil Hitler” that’s pretty jarring. And Garbo is a great sport throughout, doing pratfalls and enduring Douglas’ would-be charming gadfly banter. I especially like her deadpan comeback to Douglas’ initial flirtatious extolling of the joys of capitalist debauchery, “Your kind will be extinct soon.” (Sure, she’s a Stalinist, but that’s a solid line for any woman being harassed on the street.) Plus, in her first trip to Douglas’ apartment, she’s very clearly intending to have sex with him before the plot gets in the way—her no-nonsense approach to the fact that sex is something she enjoys and wants to have right now is as bold as anything you’re going to see in early Hollywood. Just startlingly sexy for the 1930s. As usual in Lubitsch, it’s the hypocrites and the judgmental and the mean who are truly the enemy, with those willing to bend a little getting a happy ending.

Wacky and Worldly Wednesday! You’ve got a free rental coming from the Comedy or Foreign Language sections with any other paid rental! OR Get any three non-new releases for seven days for $7.99!                                                        

>>> Dennis suggests getting some serious free money at Videoport! You’re gonna spend your entertainment dollars with us, so why not get some free ones? No reason not to. $20 buys you $25 in store credit and $30 buys you $40. Boom—free money. Do that.

Thrifty Thursday! Rent one, get a free rental from any other section in the store! OR Get any three non-new releases for seven days for $7.99!                                        

>>> Dennis suggests Hannibal (in Mystery/Thriller.) Look, I know that this seemed like a really stupid and unnecessary idea, but if you’ve ever trusted me before, then trust me on this—this TV adaptation of the Thomas Harris novels about Hannibal Lecter is one of the best shows of the year. And now that season 2 just came out, it’s one of the best shows of the past two years. It’s violent, intelligent, stunningly acted and strangely, hypnotically beautiful Trust me, people.

(Also, check out a Videoporter on this Hannibal podcast from SoundonSight.org!)

Free Kids Friday! One free rental from the Kids section, no other rental necessary! OR get any three non-new releases for a week for $7.99!          

>>> Videoport has a new special! Maybe you noticed that the heading for every single daily special is different. If so—well done. You should have your own Psych-type show where you’re very observant all the time. Regardless, here’s the new deal— NOW you can get 3 movies for a week for $7.99 EVERY SINGLE DAY! I know, right!? Also, on a specifically Friday vibe—we’ve put a ton of new stuff into the family section. Like, a lot of high-quality stuff. Now the part you might not like as much—all rentals at Videoport (including kids movies) are $3.50. Yeah, kids movies are now the same price as everything else, but you can still get a free movie from the kids section every Friday, no other rental necessary, no questions asked. And, now there are tons more movies packing that section for you to choose from. Be cool, everybody—Videoport’s got you covered, as always.

Having a Wild Weekend! Rent two movies, and get a third one for free from any section! OR get any three non-new releases for a week for $7.99!                                            

>>>For Saturday, Dennis suggests Black Mama, White Mama (in Incredibly Strange/the Blaxploitation Tribute shelf in the Middle AISLE). PAM GRIER! Pam-freaking-Grier, people. In this one, she’s thrown in a Philippines prison alongside the very pale Margaret Markov, who’s some sort of WASP-y revolutionary. When they bust out (‘cause no grimy prison can hold Pam), they’re handcuffed together in a sort of low-rent, sexy The Defiant Ones. Look, no one’s going to deny that, like most Blaxploitation flicks, this one’s got plenty of the “ploitation” part—nudity, group showers, sexy lady guards with an eye on Pam—but it’s also another chance for Pam Grier to be Pam-freaking-Grier. And that’s something I think we can all get behind.

>>>For Sunday, Dennis suggests They Came Together (in Comedy). If you’ve ever been made to sit through a romantic comedy at the behest of a loved one, then rent this and tell him/her it’s a new rom-com. Then sit back and smile smugly as Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd (and a huge cast of very funny people) hilariously eviscerate every threadbare rom-com cliché ever. It’s from David Wain and Michael Showalter (of The State, The Ten, and Wet Hot American Summer) and it’s so effectively satirical because these guys clearly have seen every romantic comedy ever made and are tearing out from the inside. Sure, your significant other will probably break up with you about half way through it, but that’s probably for the best, isn’t it?

New Releases this week at Videoport: The Fault In Our Stars (They’re young, and pretty, and in love, and have cancer in this extraordinarily popular teen romance based on that Young Adult book that every pretends they didn’t read but actually did. And then they cried and told everyone they had allergies), Godzilla (He’s young, and in love, and falls in love with a pretty girl with a tragic secret—oh, no wait, he’s a giant, freaking, fire-breathing lizard monster and he’s trying to eat Bryan Cranston! GODZILLA, people!!!), The Roosevelts—An Intimate History (Hey, did you know we had two presidents named Roosevelt? Crazy. Find out that and other important facts in this typically mammoth and exhaustive documentary series from Ken Burns!), Arrow- season 2 (Against all logic, this series about DC Comics B-list archer superhero Green Arrow [just called Arrow here because Americans can’t remember two words at the same time, I guess?] is actually pretty good. Rich boy Oliver Queen dons some green leather, a quiver of arrows, and his abs in order to shoot arrows at the bad guys of his corrupt city), Sleepy Hollow- season 1 (Against ever greater odds, this supernatural series about a resurrected, hunky Ichabod Crane fighting the Headless Horseman in the present day alongside a spunky lady cop is pretty great, too. When Tom Mison’s Crane refers to Nicole Beharie’s Lt. Abbie Mills as “leftennant,” it’s pretty much the sexiest thing on TV—can’t explain it.), South Park- season 17 (This is still going on…check out Videoport’s Incredibly Strange section to see if the venerable offense-factory that is South Park can still bring the funny. [It sort of can…]), Hannibal- season 2 (You know how Hannibal- season 1 was, improbably, one of the best shows on TV last year? Well, it was, and now here’s season 2, where things get even more insanely awesome. Yeah—I didn’t think that was possible either. Mads Mikkelsen’s Hannibal Lecter is better than Anthony Hopkins’ ever was. Yeah, I said it…), Palo Alto (Directed by yet another member of the Coppola family [Gia this time], this indie teen drama sees shy Emma Roberts attending parties with her wilder friend and edging closer to a sexual awakening; Costarring James Franco and Val Kilmer and based on a book of short stories by polymath Franco), Alpha House- season 1 (Can four Republican senators share the same Washington DC townhouse without driving each other crazy?! That’s the premise of this internet political comedy series starring John Goodman and The Wire’s Clark Johnson. It was created by Doonesbury’s Gary Trudeau, whose 80’s political series Tanner 88 was pretty outstanding and which you should rent from the Criterion Collection), The Big Bang Theory—season 7 (So this show is still going on, what with the nerds and their nerdiness and all. Have fun!), Burt’s Buzz (Documentary about Burt Shavitz the guy who founded that company Burt’s Bees with the lip balm and the other goop!), Petals On The Wind (After the incestuous creepiness of the remake of Flowers In The Attic comes more of the same, with the perhaps even more incestuous sequel! Starring Heather Graham and the great Ellen Burstyn—how long has it been since you’ve seen her in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, anyway?), Cat Run 2 (Remember Cat Run? That sexy, action-packed thriller about a call girl getting involved with spies and murders and such? No? Anyone? Well, this is your lucky day, no one! Because here’s the sequel—which does not return the lovely Paz Vega, but has, um, those two dopey guys who played the detectives…so, enjoy!), A Long Way Down (Based on a novel by Nick Hornby [High Fidelity, About A Boy], this one has Pierce Brosnan, Toni Collette, Imogen Poots, and Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul as a disparate quartet of suicidal people who, ending up on the same rooftop and preparing to jump, decide to postpone their deaths for a month to see if they can’t bond and become friends and the like. [I bet they do…]), Words And Pictures (Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche pair up for this dramedy about an art instructor and an English teacher having a competition to determine which is more important—words or pictures. You know—like the title!), The Legend Of Korra—seasons 1 & 2 (You asked for it, so we got it! All you Avatar fans [the anime series, not the massively overrated sci fi movie], here’s the sequel, or spinoff, or whatever it is! You’re welcome!), Regular Show: Rigby Pack (It’s more of that cool, hip cartoon show all the cool kids like!), The Escape Artist (Everybody’s favorite Doctor Who [except for those who like those other Doctors] David Tennant stars in this BBC miniseries about a cocky defense attorney who has to deal with the fact that his legal maneuvering has set a serial killer free), God’s Pocket (The late Philip Seymour Hoffman [and how much does it still suck that he died, by the way?] stars in this drama directed by Mad Men’s John Slattery about a grieving father who comes to discover that his dead son might not have been killed in a work accident, but thanks to the corruption of his titular working class neighborhood. Gods-PocketCostarring John Turturro), Fairhaven (Well-reviewed indie dramedy about a depressed guy [the always great Chris Messina] who comes home to his titular New England town for his father’s funeral and reconnects with his two childhood pals [Tom O’Brien, Mad Men’s Rich Sommer]), Think Like A Man Too (Kevin Hart, Romany Malco, and the others are back in this sequel about how men and women are different and stuff)

New Arrivals on Blu-Ray This Week At Videoport: The Fault In Our Stars, Brick Mansions, Godzilla

Free parking at Videoport! The parking lot behind the building is free for customers after 5PM on weekdays and all days on the weekends. Also, we can get you a free hour of parking at any downtown parking garage (including the courthouse garage which is, like, a one minute walk away). Just ask for one of our magic stickers!

Get your movies duplicated at Videoport!

You guys know we can make copies of your DVDs and VHSes at Videoport, right? No, it can’t be anything copyrighted (that’s sort of what that word means), so you’ll just have to buy another copy of Weekend At Bernie’s to replace that VHS you’ve played so often it finally shredded itself. But home movies or anything not copyrighted? We can do it! $10 bucks a pop and little Susie’s dance recital can be copied and sent to every relative on your Christmas card list!

VideoReport #473

Volume CDLXXIII- Portland, Je T’aime

For the Week of 9/9/14

Videoport is the locally-owned, independent video store of your dreams. Assuming you love movies and have very specific dreams about great video stores with all the movies ever.

Middle Aisle Monday! Take a free rental from the Science Fiction, Horror, Incredibly Strange, Popular Music, Mystery/Thriller, Animation, or Staff Picks sections with any other paid rental! OR Get any three non-new releases for seven days for seven bucks!

Rip Torn...as you may never have wanted to see him!

Rip Torn…as you may never have wanted to see him!

>>> Dennis suggests Coming Apart (in Incredibly Strange.) If you ever wanted to see a young Rip Torn’s butt, have I got a movie for you! Seriously, though, this ahead-of-its-time erotic drama is a fascinating, intense trip right into the heart of the madness of a psychiatrist who’s, well, coming apart. Like, at the seams. Torn, still snarly but oddly handsome, plays a married shrink whose office/bachelor pad is under constant surveillance by the movie camera he keeps hidden in plain sight (he calls the bulky casing “kinetic sculpture”)—and which he uses to film his numerous trysts with a succession of women. Sure, he’s a creep, but Torn digs deep into the soul of a guy running right off the rails, his obsession with filming every encounter also capturing his self-aware torment. This 1969 drama sees director Milton Moses Ginsberg anticipate the self-filming confessional indie genre by decades, and Torn, alongside remarkably natural performances from Sally Kirkland and Viveca Lindfors among others, uses the levels of self-awareness inherent in the film’s gimmick to provide some pretty searing insight. (Kirkland’s film-ending rampage upon discovering the depths of Torn’s betrayal is stunning.) Raw, risqué (there were serious ratings controversies), and ultimately more gripping than you’d imagine.

Tough and Triassic Tuesday! Give yourself a free rental from the Action or Classics section with any other paid rental! OR Get any three non-new releases for seven days for seven bucks!

>>> Emily S. Customer suggests The Stranger (in Classics). Orson Welles directed this 1946 film in which an agent of the U.N. War Crimes Commission (Edward G. Robinson) travels to a sleepy New England town in pursuit of a Nazi fugitive. Is Charles Rankin (Orson Welles), the popular young teacher at the local boys’ school, something more sinister than he seems? Welles’ only undisputed box office success, it’s an entertaining but undistinguished little film, but it will always have a place in my heart—not only for Welles’ chilly charm but for the easy wit jammed in around the edged. My vote for best line that got past the censors: when Rankin and his new wife Mary (a doggedly cheerful Loretta Young) return from their skiing honeymoon, her little brother Noah (Richard Long) asks his sister with a breezy lack of irony “Did you remember to keep your knees together and your apparatus in?” MIND YER BEESWAX, BROTHER.

Wacky and Worldly Wednesday! You’ve got a free rental coming from the Comedy or Foreign Language sections with any other paid rental! OR Get any three non-new releases for seven days for seven bucks!                                                        

>>> Dennis suggests getting some serious free money at Videoport! You’re gonna spend your entertainment dollars with us, so why not get some free ones? No reason not to. $20 buys you $25 in store credit and $30 buys you $40. Boom—free money. Do that.

Thrifty Thursday! Rent one, get a free rental from any other section in the store! OR Get any three non-new releases for seven days for seven bucks!                                        

>>> April suggests The Big Bird Cage (in Incredibly Strange but currently residing in the Blaxploitation tribute shelf in the Middle Aisle.) Don’t pass this movie by just because it has chained, half-naked ladies on the cover. The Big Bird Cage is super entertaining! Yes, it’s a 197s women in prison film where the ladies are treated terribly by the men, but these women are strong and defiant. Anitra Ford (1978s The Longest Yard) is one of these tough as nails inmates who tries to break out, and Pam Grier (Coffy, Jackie Brown) is the revolutionary who breaks in to the prison to get the girls out and start her revolution. Also starring the awesome and sleazy Sid Haig (Spider Baby, House Of 1000 Corpses).

Free Kids Friday! One free rental from the Kids section, no other rental necessary!            

>>> It’s a free movie! And you don’t have to rent anything else to get it! Just take it—take a free movie! Do it!

Having a Wild Weekend! Rent two movies, and get a third one for free from any section!                                                    

>>>For Saturday, Videoport customer Abby L. suggests Joan Rivers: A Piece Of Work (in Documentary). In the last few days, like millions of other people, I have been reflecting on the death of Joan Rivers and why her passing affected me so much. Unlike most octogenarian entertainers, Rivers remained active and vital until the very end of her life; in fact, with her hit show on E!, Fashion Police, she was experiencing somewhat of a career renaissance. She had obtained a kind of cultural omnipotence which is nearly non-existent in our fractured popular culture, and doubly rare for a woman. For such a controversial figure, I expected a more mixed reaction to her death, as cold as that sounds. Then again, I never seriously considered that Rivers would ever die. She seemed immortal to me (here, Rivers would have been the first to joke about her quest for immortality through never-ending plastic surgery). Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, the rightly-heralded 2010 documentary about the comedienne, meditates upon the sacrifice behind such ubiquity. The film follows Rivers behind-the-scenes for fourteen months and mostly eschews flattering historical treatises on her fabled comedy career, favoring instead the nuts-and-bolts behind it. It is as flinty and unflinching about Rivers as Rivers is about virtually everyone else on the planet. Unsatisfied to dwell on her status as a pioneer of “women in comedy,” the entertainer battles ageism and takes on gigs that could be categorized as selling-out in order to stay relevant, everything from the Celebrity Apprentice to stand-up shows in Mid-West casinos. The pursuit of steady work is an obsession for Rivers. About facing the the twin challenges of sexism and age discrimination, she states in a voice-over, “If one more woman comedian comes up to me and says, ‘You opened the doors for me,’ you wanna say, go f*** yourself, I’m still opening doors.” For a woman who spent the latter-half of her career slinging zingers about celebrities, Rivers shows a surprising amount of fear when preparing for her own Comedy Central Roast. She is touchingly vulnerable as she speaks of personal regret in the face of family tragedy and craving acceptance for her writing and acting talents with her biographical theater production. None of these representations inspire pity, though; the woman who was once blacklisted by Johnny Carson has done pretty well for herself, with her Louis XII-style apartment and dedicated support staff. Still, Rivers is dogged by her own work ethic, at an age where many have a hard time even getting out of bed. One of the most poignant parts of A Piece of Work comes when Rivers handles an angry heckler in the middle of her act and explains, ferociously and without missing a beat, her compassion-through-catharsis motive behind her cynical yet self-effacing comedy routines. For this moment alone, I can recommend the film even to those who find the comedienne’s point-of-view excessively vicious and catty. Such sharpness is the byproduct of mandatory toughness in a brutal industry. Rivers personified a quality that’s somehow refreshingly-classic and exceptionally rare in contemporary comedy: jokes with actual punchlines. In an era where mere awkwardness seems to pass for humor, Rivers had a practically Vaudevillian work ethic and dedication to making her audience laugh. To many, including myself, her absence leaves a palpable void in entertainment.

>>>For Sunday, Dennis suggests Road Movie (in Incredibly Strange). The world (meaning Videoport) is crowded with movies that just aren’t going to get rented often. Or ever. It’s not fair—but that’s just the way it is. Nondescript cover art, unmemorable title, no stars, tucked away in a corner of the store (in the Incredibly Strange section in this case), a little movie like Road Movie fits all those categories and is doomed to obscurity. Well, not on my watch! Nope, I make it my mission to watch random crap from time to time, just because I love weirdness, I’m an ornery cuss, and because Videoport has such things. In fact we love them. So Road Movie it was recently—and, as is often the case, dipping randomly into Videoport’s deepest crevices yielded something interesting. In this grubby little indie from 1974, writer/director Joseph Strick (Ulysses), who worked as an independent long-haul trucker in his youth, presents a strikingly stark tale of two long-haul truckers and the unstable “lot lizard’ hooker they hire to service them on a trip to Chicago. One of the tuckers (a very young, unrecognizable Barry Bostwick) seems the gentler country boy, while his macho pal Robert Drivas, appears harder, and not averse to roughing up their hired companion. And the hooker herself (played with unsettling, smudge-faced edginess by Regina Baff), has some surprises herself. It’s a decidedly low-rent, realistic tale of three losers using each other, but Road Movie also presents a creepily vivid portrait of the American underclass, where three people without any connections try to hustle their way through each day. Not every movie is for everyone (and how boring would a movie for everyone be?)—so why not just take a chance on something you ordinarily wouldn’t? That’s what makes having a Videoport in your life so valuable.

New Releases this week at Videoport: They Came Together (David Wain and Michael Showalter, the alums of The State who made the modern comedy classic Wet Hot American Summer have a new movie out—and, not surprisingly, it’s hilarious! Comic genius sweetie-pies Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler star as a pair of mismatched lovebirds in this spoof of all things romantic comedy. Costarring the likes of Ken Marino, Jason Manzoukas, Melanie Lynskey, Chris Meloni, and basically everyone you like.), Captain America: The Winter Soldier (When Captain America was fighting the Nazis in WWII, he had a kid sidekick named Bucky. Strangely, sending a teenager into battle in a funny costume didn’t go well, and Buck was killed—or was he?!? [He wasn’t.] So now the star-swaddled Avenger has to battle his seriously pissed-off former sidekick in a superhero movie everyone is saying is pretty darned good indeed. Chris Evans continues to impress as Cap.), It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia—season 9 (That this show is still as funny as it is after nine seasons is something like a miracle, especially since it’s one of the most high-wire comedy balancing acts in TV history. Five of the worst people in the world run the worst bar in Philadelphia while doing the worst things they can conceive of, to each other and to the unsuspecting citizens of the City of Brotherly Love.), Crossbones—season 1 (Pirates!! John Malkovich hams it up big time in this network pirate drama about pirates doing pirate things. Malkovich is a pirate, people!), The League- season 5 (Full of funny people [Paul Scheer, Maine’s Katie Aselton, Jason Manzoukas, Mark Duplass, Nick Krohl, and that other guy] who are very, very good at improv, this sitcom is reliably hilarious and rude even if you care 100% nothing about fantasy football.), The Galapagos Affair (Pulled from one of the oddest true stories around, this documentary explores the reasons why a disparate group of people looking to set up an Eden-like existence in the then-isolated Galapagos Islands turned into a vipers’ nest of sex, betrayal, and murder.), Night Moves (New thriller from always-interesting director Kelly Reichardt [Meek’s Cutoff, Wendy & Lucy, River Of Grass, Old Joy] about young environmentalists Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, and Peter Sarsgaard edging deeper into environmental terrorism when they contemplate bombing a hydroelectric dam), Homeland—season 3 (More intense spy vs. terrorist vs. sleeper agent thrills with Claire Danes, Mandy Patinkin, and Damian Lewis double-crossing he hell out of each other.), Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.—season 1 (From the lucrative world of The Avengers comes this spy series about some fairly dull agents with a cool plane fighting some of the more marginal bad guys of the Marvel Universe. At least it’s got the always-cool Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson.), Fed Up (Katie Couric narrates and is mad as hell in this documentary outlining how the government and BIG FOOD have conspired to make Americans fat and docile.), Brick Mansions (Remember that coolly ludicrous French action flick about a walled-off slum where everyone uses their insane parkour skills to fight for their freedom? Well, here’s the American remake—at least they brought over the French guy who, you know, actually knows parkour to prop up deceased stiffy Paul Walker. RZA also appears, for some reason.), Doctor Who: Deep Breath (The great Peter Capaldi [check out his BBC series The Thick Of It in Videoport’s British Comedy section for proof] is the new Doctor! And here’s his first adventure since he transformed from floppy sweetie Matt Smith into the formidable, frightening new version of the immortal Time Lord!), Borgman (Super creepy Dutch thriller about a menacing homeless guy who insinuates himself into the placid household of a typical family.), Korengal (In this sequel to the acclaimed documentary Restrepo, co-director Sebastian Junger [the other director was killed acting as a war correspondent], the unbelievable stress of the young men and women patrolling the most dangerous valley on the planet is examined once more.)

New Arrivals this week at Videoport: Love Streams (John Cassavetes last film was this typically wrenching, improv-heavy drama about a pair of adult siblings [Cassavetes and real-life wife and screen legend Gena Rowlands] trying desperately to find their way through their own problems. Check out Videoport’s Criterion Borgman-Poster-01Collection section—that’s where all the good stuff lives!)

New Arrivals on Blu-Ray This Week At Videoport: Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Homeland- season 3, Brick Mansions, 13

Free parking at Videoport! The parking lot behind the building is free for customers after 5PM on weekdays and all days on the weekends. Also, we can get you a free hour of parking at any downtown parking garage (including the courthouse garage which is, like, a one minute walk away). Just ask for one of our magic stickers!

Get your movies duplicated at Videoport!

You guys know we can make copies of your DVDs and VHSes at Videoport, right? No, it can’t be anything copyrighted (that’s sort of what that word means), so you’ll just have to buy another copy of Weekend At Bernie’s to replace that VHS you’ve played so often it finally shredded itself. But home movies or anything not copyrighted? We can do it! $10 bucks a pop and little Susie’s dance recital can be copied and sent to every relative on your Christmas card list!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

VideoReport #472

Volume CDLXXII- Portland, When It Sizzles

For the Week of 9/2/14

(Click the pics for more reviews!)

Videoport, your locally-owned, independent movie store also gives you a free movie every single day. Look—we’re not trying to be braggy over here. It’s just the truth.

Middle Aisle Monday! Take a free rental from the Science Fiction, Horror, Incredibly Strange, Popular Music, Mystery/Thriller, Animation, or Staff Picks sections with any other paid rental! OR Get any three non-new releases for seven days for seven bucks!

>>> Dennis suggests the Videoport Blaxploitation tribute shelf (in the Staff Picks section). In a time when Hollywood had little use for strong black movie heroes (you know, not like now…oh, wait—sort of like now quite a bit), the Blaxploitation genre emerged. Sure, there were some problematic aspects of the genre (apart from the fact that such an alternative cinema for talented black actors, writers, directors, and composers was necessary in the first place)—the “ploitation” part of the name wasn’t joking around. Violent, filled with the same sort of junkie, hooker, pimp, and hustler roles that Hollywood shunted black actors into, the genre nonetheless provided some charismatic, talented black entertainers an opportunity at stardom. The main difference was, these actors got the chance to play leads just as cool, sexy, and central as their mainstream white counterparts—and that the best of these films presented black culture from the inside out. Of course, once Hollywood saw that there was a huge, untapped market for action flicks with black heroes, they swarmed in and watered the genre down, but still, if it weren’t for Blaxploitation, we’d likely never have seen some exceptionally talented, exciting actors and actresses (unless they were being arrested on Starsky and Hutch or something). People like Richard Roundtree (Shaft), Ron O’Neal (Superfly), former NFL-er Fred Williamson (Black Caesar, Bucktown, Hell Up In Harlem), impossible to describe party comedian turned improbable camp action hero Rudy Ray Moore (Dolemite, Petey Wheatstraw), and character actor with the greatest name of all time Thalmus Rasulala (say it out loud). And, of course, the greatest gift the genre gave to us all, the stunning Pam Grier (Foxy Brown, Sheba Baby, Friday Foster) who, like most of the Blaxploitation stars, found her career left high and dry when the genre dies out. At least until Quentin Tarantino pulled one of his most successful career reclamation projects, casting Grier as the star of his brilliant Jackie Brown. The most stellar example of Tarantino’s signature mining of old exploitation genre films for new purposes, it’s his best film (yes, even better than Pulp Fiction), and provides the glorious Grier with the role she always deserved.

Tough and Triassic Tuesday! Give yourself a free rental from the Action or Classics section with any other paid rental! OR Get any three non-new releases for seven days for seven bucks!

>>> Dennis suggests Buchanan Rides Alone (in Classics). The great Randolph Scott/Budd Boetticher Western classic catchup continues with this, their oddest collaboration. In this one, Scott is Buchanan, a preternaturally cheerful cowpoke who crosses the border into Texas in the creepy, corrupt town of Agry, where everything seems to cost ten dollars, and the bent town government and law are all controlled by the same crooked family. When the worthless son of the clan is killed by a justifiably vengeful Mexican lad, the helpful, smiling Buchanan is roped into jail along with him. Bad move, Agry jerks. What’s so odd about the film is how passive and pleasant Scott’s Buchanan remains as bodies continue to fall all around him. It’s sort of like Yojimbo, with both sides of the feud dropping like dusty flies—except that Buchanan, unlike Toshiro Mifune’s mercenary samurai, doesn’t appear to be that invested in what’s going on. Weird little Western, but not in a bad way, and the rangy, genial Scott, as ever, is pretty much the soul of the Western genre.

Wacky and Worldly Wednesday! You’ve got a free rental coming from the Comedy or Foreign Language sections with any other paid rental! OR Get any three non-new releases for seven days for seven bucks!                                                        

>>> Dennis suggests getting some serious free money at Videoport! You’re gonna spend your entertainment dollars with us, so why not get some free ones? No reason not to. $20 buys you $25 in store credit and $30 buys you $40. Boom—free money. Do that.

Thrifty Thursday! Rent one, get a free rental from any other section in the store! OR Get any three non-new releases for seven days for seven bucks!                                        

>>> Emily S. Customer suggests Big Trouble In Little China (in Action/Adventure). As earlier editions of The VideoReport will attest, I have a long-time fondness for John Carpenter films. You might even call it a weakness. But there’s one much-admired Carpenter movie for which I’ve never had much affection. Big Trouble in Little China always left me cold, maybe (I thought) because I’m not steeped in the action and martial arts flicks of which it is such an affectionate parody. Then I heard a John Carpenter quote that blew the movie wide open for me. It’s so simple and so obvious, and somehow I missed it every time. Big Trouble protagonist Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) is “a guy who thinks he’s the action hero when he’s really the comic sidekick.” BOOM. 

>>>Dennis suggests, as a follow-up Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins (in the Incredibly Strange section). Then there’s this beefy macho action flick from around the same time where…it’s not entirely clear how in on the gag everyone is. Sure, it’s based on The Destroyer series—you know, those slim secret agent books your weird uncle loved, and it was clearly setting itself up as the first in a series (that did not happen). On the other, it’s got Fred Ward in the lead—now I love Fred, but he plays Remo like a big lunkhead most of the time. Also, it stars the very not-Asian Joel Grey (Cabaret) as the very racistly Korean martial arts master Chun, who teaches former cop Remo how to dodge bullets, punch his fingertips through hard stuff, and dive right through big piles of sand while running without leaving footprints. Is it a satire? I honestly don’t know, but it’s got a huge fight setpiece at the then under-repair Statue Of Liberty! Plus, Wilford Brimley as a grumpy spymaster!

Free Kids Friday! One free rental from the Kids section, no other rental necessary!            

>>> Emily S. Customer suggests My Neighbor Totoro.  I recommend My Neighbor Totoro so often as a gimme-grab for Free Family Friday, and I rarely tell you why. Today I will. It’s been a tough month, Videoporters. It’s been rough on me, it’s been rough on people I love, and a glance at the news tells me it’s been tough all over. When life puts too much on your plate, it’s okay to take a two-hour respite, to escape for the length of a favorite film to a world that’s less alarming, less painful, less tumultuous. But most movies don’t provide such a world: most movies thrive on amped-up conflict. But not the films of Hayao Miyazaki, and especially not the sweetly balanced world of My Neighbor Totoro. In this world, a mother can be ill—so ill that she’s stuck in the hospital, away from her husband and daughters, but never so ill that the specter of death looms over this sunny emotional territory. A family can move to a new home and discover it’s inhabited by mysterious supernatural creatures to first the shock and then delight of the tiny girls who’ll be living with them. It’s a world in which changes are sometimes challenging but not inherently scary, in which tiny girls can wander a field and waterfront full of excitement and curiosity. Totoro is filled with an unfettered joy and thrills that thoughtfully reproduce the actual joy and thrills we see in real children as they push the boundaries of their ever-expanding worlds, and it shows that thing we forget so easily, so early: that the world is bigger and brighter than we ever imagined, and magical in a thousand unexpected ways.

Having a Wild Weekend! Rent two movies, and get a third one for free from any section!                                                    

>>>For Saturday, Emily S. Customer suggests A Mighty Wind (in Comedy). Easily my favorite of the Christopher Guest mockumentaries, A Mighty Wind walks the uneasy line between snark and sentiment without sacrificing compelling characters and affecting stories. Upon the death of a venerated folk music producer, his grown children ask three of his most memorable acts to gather for a tribute concert to commemorate his life. Its familiar loose, naturalistic style give the often broadly drawn characters punch and depth, and the drama ramps up naturally: will the rusty old musicians handle the pressure of media attention and a live audience? Will the slick, plastic perfection of a revamped, commercialized line-up evoke the heartfelt spirit of its original? Will the long-separated lovers rejoin to sing a duet for which the world has waited decades? There’s a reason A Mighty Wind holds a place in my affections higher than any of Guest’s other work: it balances so delicately between sweet and acid, sometimes bittersweet without ever quite dropping into true bitterness. The music is lovely, hilarious, and pitch-perfect… and the crowning song, “A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow,” rightfully won an Oscar for its composers, star Michael McKean and his wife Annette O’Toole. 

>>>For Sunday, Dennis suggests exploring the delicate pleasures of the “so bad it’s good” cinema. Now, not to get down on the shole Syfy channel original movie nonsense—I know you crazy kids love your mega-piranhas, sharktopuses, and frognadoes and so forth, and I’m not trying to steal your fun. But what’s so galling to me about these deliberately awful, cynical crapfests populated by cringing D-list former celebrities waving chainsaws at CGI hybrid animals is that they represent a fundamental betrayal of the joys of actual hate-watching. These movies (all the rage, I’m told) are one giant, smirking wank-fest of audiences and filmmakers goosing each other for recognizing that they’re doing something essentially meaningless. What’s really entertaining for the seasoned hate-watcher is a movie that has absolutely no freaking idea it’s terrible. Watching a movie that a group of people have made flush with the confidence that they are, indeed, engaged in creating something beautiful which is, in reality, jaw-droppingly, funnybone-ticklingly awful. There’s a special glory in discovering a movie that is just…simply…wrong in every aspect—it’s like you’ve discovered the first, stumbling attempts of an alien species attempting to emulate human entertainment. Maybe as part of a plan for world domination—we can’t be sure. What am I talking about? Well, it can’t be winkingly bad, like those pandasaurus movies. And it can’t be something you find morally reprehensible—unless it’s also completely inept (if that’s your bag, I’d suggest the right-wing “satire” An American Carol, which proves, once again, that “conservative comedy” is a paradox). Nope, I’m talking about stuff like Birdemic: Shock And Terror (think Hitchcock’s The Birds made by your college sophomore roommate who just discovered iMovie). Or Miami Connection (neon drenched 1980s Miami Vice clone fueled by cocaine and actors rounded up off the street). Or even the big budget remake of The Wicker Man, where director Neil LaBute’s grim self-seriousness combines with Nicholas Cage sailing gleefully over the top while spin-kicking middle aged women in the face for the last third of the movie. Or the infamous Showgirls, which delves so deeply into cheesy sleaze (while obviously convinced it was going to be an erotic masterpiece) that you can only watch it in sort of glazed awe. Or Troll 2 (completely unrelated to Troll 1 and completely disconnected from storytelling or acting competence). Or Road House, which is the most 1980s thing that’s ever existed, with every single line an unintentional parody of macho, tough guy awesomeness. (Plus, Swayze at his Swayze-est!) Or notorious disaster Howard The Duck, which you can only watch in a sort of horrified nauseous schadenfreude (“at least I’m not George Lucas”). Or the insane, slurring grandfather of them all, The Room. Oh God, The Room. Written, directed by and starring something called Tommy Wiseau, this is what I’m talking about when I refer to aliens trying to make human movies. This erotic (I guess) drama (I suppose), in the hands of the burly, oddly-accented Wiseau (who gives himself numerous sex scenes where it looks like the poor lady involved is being humped by a butcher shop), seems like a Martian in a human suit who’s spent a year watching only Cinemax after dark and tried to make a softcore porn love triangle flick despite not knowing how human sexuality or human communication work. It…is…glorious. So keep your lazy octosquids—real “so bad they’re good” movies are so enjoyable because they’re not in on the joke. (Of course, for a master class in this form of entertainment, check out Videoport’s Incredibly Strange section for over 100 episodes of the classic movie-mockery series Mystery Science Theater 3000!)

New Releases this week at Videoport: Draft Day (Kevin Costner stars as a slicky-boy NFL agent trying to land all the guys who are the best at the blocking and the throwing and the hitting and so forth in this Jerry Maguire-looking football drama), Eastsiders (indie drama about a group of friends gathered for a wild party on the eve of the 2012 Mayan apocalypse [which, weirdly enough, did not happen] only to have their fun ruined when one guest realizes that his boyfriend has been cheating on him with another guest; adapted from the acclaimed webseries, you can find this one in Videoport’s Pride section), Mom’s Night Out (When some tired moms leave the kids with their significant others and head out for a night on the town, you know there’s gonna be some saucy, wacky hijinks—unless, as in this case, the whole thing is one of those “faith-based” Christian movies that have been coming out of late [see: God’s Not Dead, Heaven Is For Real, whatever Tyler Perry is up to this week], in which case lessons will be learned about being a good mother and lovin’ the Lord! Sean Astin is in here somewhere), For No Good Reason (Entertainingly weird documentary about cartoonist/artist Ralph Steadman, whose savage, jagged creations put some of the fear and loathing into infamous Gonzo writer Hunter S. Thompson’s best works. With cool guy celeb fans JohnnyDepp, Richard E. Grant, Terry Gilliam, and Jann Wenner along for the ride.), The Musketeers- season 1 (Swashbuckling series from BBC America about…well, you know who it’s about. Starring the great Peter Capaldi [The Thick Of It, plus he’s the new Doctor Who] as the villainous Cardinal Reichelieu )

New Arrivals on Blu-Ray This Week At Videoport: Draft Day, For No Good Reason

Free parking at Videoport! The parking lot behind the building is free for customers after 5PM on weekdays and all days on the weekends. Also, we can get you a free hour of parking at any downtown parking garage (including the courthouse garage which is, like, a one minute walk away). Just ask for one of our magic stickers!

Get your movies duplicated at Videoport!

You guys know we can make copies of your DVDs and VHSes at Videoport, right? No, it can’t be anything copyrighted (that’s sort of what that word means), so you’ll just have to buy another copy of Weekend At Bernie’s to replace that VHS you’ve played so often it finally shredded itself. But home movies or anything not copyrighted? We can do it! $10 bucks a pop and little Susie’s dance recital can be copied and sent to every relative on your Christmas card list!

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