VideoReport #202

Volume CCII- The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Godzilla
For the Week of 6/30/09

Videoport reminds you that it’s going to rain for the next, oh, forever, so here’s a free movie every day to take the place of the outside.
Middle Aisle Monday. (Get one free rental from the Sci-Fi, Horror, Incredibly Strange, Mystery/Thriller, Animation or Staff Picks sections with your paid rental.)
>>> Elsa S. Customer suggests ‘The Simpsons’- season 3, disc 1 (in the Animation section). This weekend, I popped in a Simpsons DVD at random… and had an accidental Michael Jackson tribute all on my own at home. The DVD: “The Simpsons” season three, disc 1. The episode: “Stark Raving Dad,” in which Homer is carted off to Springfield’s New Bedlam Home for the Emotionally Interesting, where he meets his new roommate, a big white dude who thinks he’s the King of Pop. It’s a remarkably sweet story with a pretty little ditty to boot, and also a testament to Jackson’s wide reaching influence on pop culture.
Tough and Triassic Tuesday. (Get one free rental from the Action or Classics sections with your paid rental.)
>>>Dennis suggests Trick Baby (in Action/the temporary Blaxploitation section in the Middle Aisle). This 1973 conman flick often gets lost in the blaxploitation shuffle (Robert Townsend’s comeback movie?), probably because it doesn’t feature any of the genre icons people come to expect; there’s no Pam Grier, no Fred Williamson, not even Thalmus Rasulala. That’s a shame, because Trick Baby is one of the best made of the 70s blaxploitation films, with a nice, gritty Philadelphia setting, a clever, compelling ‘Sting’– like plot with cons and double-crosses (it was based on a novel by Iceberg Slim), and some of the best performances of the genre, with Mel Stewart as the wise older black conman teaming up with his deceptively biracial apprentice Kiel Martin (later on ‘Hill Street Blues’) to scam the honkies out of their dough, until they fleece the wrong mark and get the mob on their exquisitely-tailored butts. An exciting, underrated, overlooked entry in the 70s urban action pantheon.
Wacky and Worldly Wednesday. (Get one free rental from the Comedy or Foreign Language sections with your paid rental.)
>>>Dennis suggests Kanal (in Foreign Language/The Criterion Collection). In a Videoport corporate synergy-type thing, my foreign language review this week comes from the filmography of legendary Polish director Andrzej Wajda, whose work has just gotten a serious look from Videoport’s owner Bill, who’s decided that we need lots more Wajda. (Check out page 2 of this here newsletter for a complete checklist). Kanal, picked up for the deluxe treatment by those knuckleknobs at Criterion, is, perhaps, his best known film, and his bleakest. Of course, since it is one of the bleakest films ever made, it would have to be, wouldn’t it? Man…is this one a kick in the soft stuff. An exciting, edge-of-your-seat-type war movie about a ragtag group of Polish Resistance fighters fleeing the advancing Nazis by scurrying down into the Warsaw sewers, Kanal follows each of the equally-well-drawn and largely appealing citizen warriors as they splash around in the total darkness, get separated and lost, become delirious and disoriented by the ever-wafting sewer gas, and, occasionally, become desperate enough to poke their heads up through a manhole cover, usually to find themselves staring straight into the unforgiving barrels of some of those damn Nazzys. And then there’s the ending…man… Fun fact: the one time I saw this movie before (in the ancient VHS days), I was as sick with the flu as I’ve ever been, sweating, and literally delirious with fever…and watching a two-plus-hour long film about desperate people splashing through the poo and becoming more and more delirious and desperate and throwing up and fainting…in the poo. Good times…
Thrifty Thursday. (Get one free movie from any section with your paid rental.)
>>> Videoport customer Chris G suggests, in the strongest possible terms, that you not rent Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus (in the Incredibly Strange section), stating, “Really, truly awful. And we were stoned. Sorry.” No, we’re sorry; although, to be fair, the title Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus and the star power of Lorenzo Lamas and Deborah (don’t call me Debbie!) Gibson might have held some clues…
Free Kids Friday. (Get one free rental from the Children’s or Family sections, no other rental necessary).
>>>Dennis suggests Chicken Run. I know, I know, it’s Friday, and you’re all mad. Even though Videoport, absurdly generous as ever, is giving away a free rental today, it’s Friday, which means the free movie comes from the (horrors!) kids section! God, are we jerks! I mean where do we get the nerve? We should be ashamed of ourselves…for only giving you a free movie. (Irony is fun). Well grumpus, there are some great, fun movies in the kids section, including this claymation comedy from Aardman Animation and Nick Park, the creator of the universally-beloved Wallace and Gromit films. The Great Escape-style tale of a flock of chickens who, discovering their heartless owners are going to switch from egg production to chicken pot pie manufacture, decide to get the flock out of there. A visiting American cock (Mel Gibson)* claims to possess the long-lost secret of chicken flight, and all the requisite shenanigans, monkeyshines, and fooferah ensue. Except, here’s the thing- it’s Nick Park, so everything, from the character design, to the voice acting, to the visual gags, are clever, imaginative, and hilarious. Well worth a rental, even if it’s not a Friday and you’d have to, you know, pay a whole dollar for it.
*Yeah…I went there…
Having a Wild Weekend. (Rent two, get your third movie for free from any section on Saturday and Sunday.)
>>>For Saturday, Dennis2: The Rage suggests Ben X (in Foreign Language). How many Belgian movies did you see last year? I bet it’s less than twelve, so why not work on your average and rent Ben X? Critics were not impressed, but this did not stop European audiences from seeing this Flemish-language movie about a boy with autism in high school. The kid is being teased to death, but finds solace in video games, where he and a female knight conquer worlds together. Despite the fact that the main actor must be older than thirty, a little on the old side for a high school student, and the shamelessly fuzzy feelgood wacky ending and the lack of critical endorsement, the movie was selected for the Berlin film festival and won a whole bunch of other prizes. Make up your own mind? Part of the Film Movement series, a subscription delivery service*, these films have a bonus short film on every disc.
*Of course, all these Film Movement films can be seen in their temporary Film Movement tribute shelf in the middle aisle at Videoport!
>>>For Sunday, Elsa S. Customer suggests Goodfellas (in Feature Drama). Bringing the (more-or-less) true story of middle-management mobsters to the screen, Martin Scorsese masterfully establishes an odd mood, mixing a sense of rollicking nostalgia and hooting fun with flickers of remorse and horror. Ray Liotta is an inspired choice to play central character Henry Hill, the one-time wiseguy telling the story from the safety of the witness protection program. Liotta brings a distinctively louche twinkle to the role, showing us how superficial charm can make a bad guy look good. The powerful note here lies in the final irony: Hill has earnest regrets — not for the harm he’s done or the lives he’s helped to ruin, but for the life of power and excitement he left behind. Goodfellas is a tragedy on many levels, and a brutal comedy, too.

New Releases this week at Videoport: ‘Eastbound and Down’- season 1 (from the team behind The Foot Fist Way, this HBO series follows the truly epic downfall of a former bad boy baseball pitcher as he goes back to his hometown in disgrace and becomes a high school gym teacher; this may be one of the most profanely-hilarious and disturbing comedy series ever, with star Danny McBride [Pineapple Express, Tropic Thunder] creating one of the most disgustingly-funny characters in recent memory), The Code (Morgan Freeman? Antonio Banderas? And this ‘aging thief pulls of one last job’ thriller went right ot DVD? Ouch…), ‘Entourage’- season 5 (Jeremy Piven continues to try and expand/exploit the career of Adrien Grenier’s hangers-on-laden would-be superstar in this HBO series), Princess Protection Program (chipper young tween stars Demi Lovato and Selena Gomez play deposed, yet chipper, royalty forced to live like the rest of us peasants in this family comedy), Jonas Brothers: The Concert Experience (Me: The Not Watching Experience…), Two Lovers (Joaquin Phoenix got great reviews playing a tortured lover opposite Gwyneth Paltrow in this one before he went bananas/started a rap career/started screwing with us all as a performance piece publicity stunt), 12 Rounds (WWE superstar John Cena has now acted in two movies…and you said that would mean the end of the world; in this one, surprise!, he’s a tough guy forced to undergo the titular Herculean labors by one of those evil masterminds you read about), ‘Secret Diary of a Call Girl’- season 2 (odd that a show with this title should be successful…; anyway, Billie Piper returns as the saucy, secretly-conflicted hooker), Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li (another action flick based on the now-ancient video game; I don’t see any way that this could be a mistake…), The Education of Charlie Banks (teen drama about a college student who’s visited by a jerk who used to bully him in high school; directed by Limp Bizkit’s Fred Durst…no, I’m not kidding…).

New Arrivals this week at Videoport: ‘The IT Crowd’- season 2 (the hilariously-disgruntled computer techs return in the second season of this BBC sitcom; look for it in the British Comedy section at Videoport!), ‘Eureka’- season 3 (the Videoport Sci Fi section gets a little bit weirder with the new season of this series about a small town filled with mad scientists and the beleaguered sheriff trying to keep them from ending the world), Strike (2006 film by director Volker Schlondorff about the illiterate woman who became a heroine of the Polish Solidarity union), Slaughterhouse Five (George Roy Hill’s flawed but effective adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s, to be fair, well-nigh unadaptable novel finally hits the DVD), Bullet Ballet (Japanese crime thriller about amman who becomes obsessed with guns after his fiancee shoots himself), 9 Souls (Japanese crime thriller about the titular group of guys, escaped from prison en masse, trying to flee to some sort of safety), Wild Life (Japanese crime thriller about a down-and-out boxer who gets caught up with the Yakuza), Mobster Confessions (Japanese crime thriller about, um, some mobsters…who confess things…), An Obsession (Japanese crime thriller about a stolen gun and the chaos that results; a remake of Kurosawa’s Stray Dog), Young Thugs Nostalgia (Japanese crime thriller about young wannabe yakuza; from psycho genius director Takashi Miike [Ichi the Killer, Visitor Q]), Onibi: The Fire Within (Japanese crime thriller about…well, maybe you’ve sensed a theme to these last new acquisitions; you can find these, and many, many other examples of the most violent, craziest, and most bazonko films ever produced from the wonderful, wacky world that is Japan in Videoport’s ‘Made in Japan’ section), Medellin (Colombian crime thriller [see, we changed it up there] about a young man getting involved in the nastiest drug cartel outside of Pfizer), Okie Noodling (no, not a movie about midwestern Phish fans, this one’s a documentary about people who catch enormous catfish with their bare hands), Kaidan (Japanese ghost story, based on a 19th century novel; find it in that kooky ‘Made in Japan’ section!), and Videoport brings in ten, count ‘em ten, films this week from legendary Polish director Andrzej Wajda! Speaking of which:

Director’s Checklist: Andrzej Wajda
The founding father of the Polish school of filmmaking, coinciding with the ‘political thaw’ after 1956, Wajda was an inspiration to Roman Polanski, among other Polish filmmakers who sought to express the anger and disillusionment with their country’s oppression, both by the Nazis and the Soviets. Videoport can now boast a(n) (even more) serious selection of the man’s gripping, insightful films. Check ‘em out:
A Generation *#(1955)
Kanal *#(1957)
Ashes and Diamonds *#(1958)
Fury Is a Woman (1961)
Everything for Sale *(1969)
Landscape After Battle *(1970)
The Promised Land *(1975)
Man of Marble *(1977)
The Young Girls of Wilko* (1979)
Man of Iron* (1981)
Danton (1983)
Pan Tadeusz (1999)
Zemsta *(2002)
*indicates a new DVD acquisition at Videoport this week!
#indicates a Criterion Collection release!

Get some free money at Videoport! Yup, it’s pretty easy, really. Just put down $20 on your Videoport rental account and we’ll magically transform that $20 into $25 worth of rental credit. Wait, there’s more! Pull the same trick with $30 down and we’ll give you $40 worth of rental credit. That’s either five or ten free bucks, if my math is right…

Check out Videoport on the intra-nets!
You know, the one on your computer! Just go to our Myspace page (www.myspace.com/videoportjones) or our new WordPress blog (www.videoportjones.wordpress.com) where you can read old VideoReports and movie essays, leave comments and angry, offended screeds, check out Videoport photos and artwork, steal our movie opinions as your own, and admire our bewildering array of fonts, questionable grammar, and other computer-y things! Plus, our self esteem is now inexorably tied to the number of blog hits we get each day. Help us out, will you? We’re very insecure…

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