Volume CCIX- Must Love Godzilla
For the Week of 8/18/09
Videoport makes renting fun. And also economical, satisfying, and convenient. Oh, and sexy. Very, very sexy…
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.)
>>>Dennis suggests Watchmen (in Sci Fi). Sigh. That’s both the reaction of me when I think about this adaptation of the utterly brilliant Alan Moore graphic novel and that of the unfortunate customer who has asked me for my opinion on it, hoping for a quickie yes-or-no judgement and, instead, seeing me gear up for a far-too-in-depth dissertation on the subject. As both a movie and comics nerd, my feelings on this issue are…complicated. I shall attempt to break them down thusly (SPOILERS AHOY):
The Good: 1. The movie really holds your interest. The underlying story is so compelling, that you’re gonna keep watching no matter what through the movie’s two and a half hour running time. (Of course, the ‘underlying story’ means it’s the source material that’s actually so good, but, well, we’re drifting into the forthcoming ‘The Bad’ area, so I’ll just leave this at that). 2. Resurgent former child star Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach is great. By far the most interesting character in the graphic novel, Rorschach, as interpreted by the pretty riveting Haley, while embodying, as all the characters do, a distinct, and disturbing, analysis of the whole ‘superhero’ concept, is alternately creepy, fascinating, absurdly funny, and ultimately touching. Good work from the erstwhile Kelly Leak. 3. Billy Crudup, undeniably the best actor of the bunch, creates a genuinely moving, multifaceted character in the person of this world’s one superpowered hero, blue-skinned, nekkid Dr. Manhattan. If anyone can create a convincing portrait of a conflicted godlike being losing touch with a humanity he’s evolved beyond, it’s Billy Crudup. His haunting, dispassionate-yet-mournful narration of the reminiscences of his past is the one, actually resonant element of the picture. He should narrate every movie that Morgan Freeman’s too busy to do.
4. The credit sequence, which fills in the voluminous backstory to the film, scored to Dylan singing ‘The Times They Are A’Changin’ is as crisp and economical piece of storytelling as there is in the entire film.
5. The solution to the mystery is actually the one improvement over the original plot. (Apologies to fans of ‘squiddy’, but that was the one too-‘comic booky’ part of the comic, and it makes sense that the ‘smartest man in the world’ would hatch a scheme that takes down his two objectives in one, elegant plot).
The Bad: 1. Good god is the acting flat. With the two exceptions cited above, there isn’t one remarkable performing moment in the entire, lengthy, film. Part of the blame goes to director Zack Snyder (of the completely-overrated 300) and his seeming nigh-George Lucas-level
indifference to performance. The rest of the blame goes to, well, the bad actors involved; the chirpy, bland Malin Akerman (as Silk Spectre II) is especially dreadful. People tell me that Patrick Wilson was really good in Little Children (along with Haley), but I’ll believe that when I get around to seeing it.
2. Snyder loooves stylishly-choreographed graphic violence, even at the expense of the story; the post-dinner ‘fighting off the muggers’ scene with Dan and Laurie is a rueful and emotionally-complex sequence where the two characters are forced to confront who they were and who they’ve become, and not an excuse for some way-cool slo-mo ultraviolence. 3. Despite all the gajillions of dollars spent on the nearly-convincing CGI effects, there is an almost complete disregard for even bare professionalism with regards to the makeup effects. Some of the wardrobe (Adrien’s outfits) and the facial hair (that reporter) are particularly-egregious, and the old age makeup is literally community theater-quality. And the Nixon? Was this some sort of joke? I mean, no other element of the film is (intentionally) campy… Just an embarrassment. 4. Matthew Goode is completely unconvincing as Ozymandias/Veidt. Too much of a lightweight for such a pivotal role. 5. That love scene scored to Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah‘ just gave me the giggles all the way through. I’m fairly certain that’s not what they were going for… And 6. It just doesn’t work. There are isolated effective sequences (everything with Dr. Manhattan, most of Rorschach, the ‘All Along the
Watchtower’ approach to the fortress, ummm….), but most of the film has the seemingly inevitable flatness and rushiness (even at its lengthy running time) of most literary adaptations (especially those that bring nothing new to the proceedings). Without any real reason to adapt such a seminal, maddening, complex work apart from creating a ‘blockbuster’ (which he couldn’t even deliver), Snyder just came up with an unimaginative commercial product.
So, summing up: meh.
Tough and Triassic Tuesday. (Get one free rental from the Action or Classics sections with your paid rental.)
>>>Dennis suggests checking out Videoport’s online presence at our Myspace page www.myspace.com/videoportjones or our movie blog www.videoportjones.wordpress.com where you can read movie reviews and old VideoReports, and even send your reviews to be published therein. And then we can avoid embarrassing gaps in the VideoReport necessitating self-promoting filler in lieu of an actual, helpful and informative Tuesday review.
Wacky and Worldly Wednesday. (Get one free rental from the Comedy or Foreign Language sections with your paid rental.)
>>>Dennis suggests High and Low (in Foreign Language/the Criterion Collection). Akira Kurosawa is my favorite director of all time. And yet, until this week, I’d never seen this film, his 1963 adaptation of one of Ed McBain’s crime novels. Why, you ask? Well, I’ve been busy, and what the hell business is it of yours anyway? Sorry to snap like that. Anyway, this was one of Kurosawa’s ‘contemporary’ films (as opposed to the ones with the samurai and the swords and the slashing), and it’s a superior entertainment, not the least due to the stellar performance from his sixteen-time leading man, the legendary Toshiro Mifune. In this one, the ever-formidable Mifune plays a wealthy shoe company executive in the middle of a power struggle with some weaselly cohorts who, just when he thinks he’s got the upper hand (due to him mortgaging his glass-walled modern house on the hill) gets a call claiming that his son has been kidnapped for an exorbitant ransom. Oh no! But then his son strolls in safe and sound. Yay! Only then it turns out that the kidnapper has mistakenly ‘napped his chauffeur’s son instead. Ummm. And he’s still demanding the Mifune-crippling ransom of he’s gonna kill the boy. Ohhhh…crap. It’s a great, morally-complex dilemma, and it allows the great Mifune to reveal the deceptive depth hiding beneath the manly exterior; his captain of industry is a decent man, but he’s also rich, self-made, and, while he’s fond of his chauffeur, well, the man’s a servant, and paying the ransom will doom his family to sudden poverty. Ouch. The first third of the film is just him (surrounded by business associates, his wife, and then the police) in his glassed-in living room, wrestling with one hell of a moral dilemma. And he’s riveting; I can’t think of many more charismatic leading men in the history of cinema. And the setup also allows Kurosawa to display his mastery of composition, with various groupings huddling around all the decisions to be made, always with Mifune as the nucleus- it’s so subtle, and yet so assured at the same time. Then the film goes into police procedural mode, and then…somewhere else (I’m not spoiling stuff here). Apart from the sure-fire plot details, this is a great, gripping drama, that, in addition to its perfectly-executed crime narrative, offers uniquely-satisfying, completely-realized dramatic possibilities as well. Another Kurosawa masterpiece I’ve finally gotten around to.
Thrifty Thursday. (Get one free movie from any section with your paid rental.)
>>> April suggests The Beales of Grey Gardens (in the Criterion Collection). If you’re desperately looking for more crazy antics from Little Edie and Big Edie, then look no further! The Maysles brothers dug into their unused Grey Gardens footage and found some more great gems from the mother-daughter duo. My favorite bits are when Little Edie goes off on politics. And Big Edie recites poetry and sings. It’s pretty great.
Free Kids Friday. (Get one free rental from the Children’s or Family sections, no other rental necessary).
>>> Hey, here’s an idea! Place the kids’ DVDs in the player for them! Because of them not having great motor skills or respect for the needs of an independent video store trying, desperately, to keep its DVDs in working order! We love your kids! We hate when you let them touch our DVDs! (And while you’re at it, you know that you’re never, ever, to touch the shiny side of a DVD, right?)
Having a Wild Weekend. (Rent two, get your third movie for free from any section on Saturday and Sunday.)
>>>For Saturday, Videoport Customer John S. has a follow-up to Dennis’ review of Pontypool (in Horror) from last week’s VideoReport (#208): “I look forward to seeing Pontypool after reading the recent VideoReport review, and felt compelled by my OCD to remark that the idea of infection being spread by language was used to good effect in a ‘New Twilight Zone’ episode from the 1980s (“Need To Know”). William Petersen plays a CDC investigator who, along with Frances McDormand, tries to discover the cause of an epidemic of insanity in a small town. Turns out a local who traveled abroad learned the meaning of life while on his journeys. The problem is, knowing it makes you nuts, while also inspiring the desire to communicate it to others. Ending involves the local radio station, which is another connection with Pontypool. Oh, there may have been some spoilers in there.”
Editor’s note: Thanks John. As you all know, the VideoReport is, apart from a tool for us at Videoport to ram our movie opinions down your throats, a place for the Videoport community, staff and customers, to share our thoughts on film. If you’d like to take part, just drop off a review (movie list, essay, what have you) at the store or, if you’re feeling tech-y, email them to us at email@example.com. We’d love to have you join in the ongoing discussion.
>>>For Sunday, Dennis suggests Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (in Comedy/our temporary John Hughes shrine in the middle aisle). Regan recently asked me what my favorite John Hughes movie quote was. I think it’s this one from Cameron, “I am not going to sit on my ass as the events that affect me unfold to determine the course of my life. I’m going to take a stand. I’m going to defend it. Right or wrong, I’m going to defend it.” One question about the logic in FBDO though? What happened to the real ‘Sausage King of Chicago’, Abe Froman? Did he just blow off his lunch reservation?
New Releases this week at Videoport: Tyson (professional Iron Mike fan and director James Toback [Fingers, Black and White] brings you this documentary about the former heavyweight champ/rapist), Julia (Tilda Swinton stars in this thriller about a hopeless alcoholic who decides to ransom a small boy; it goes about as well as you would expect…), Surveillance (David Lynch’s daughter Jennifer directs her second film about an FBI agent
tracking a serial killer…then things get all freaky; here’s hoping it’s better than her inaugural film, the universally-giggled-at Boxing Helena…but then, it’d have to be), Gomorra (it’s here! Everybody but everybody wants to see this universally-praised Italian mob film…and now you can and stuff), Green Lantern: First Flight (animated first adventure of the DC Comics superhero with the shiny ring), The Last House on the Left (yay! An unnecessary remake of the reprehensible rape/revenge horror ‘classic’!), The Garden (after the LA riots, the community came together to create a 14-acre public vegetable garden, so, of course, some a-holes want to bulldoze it and put up a Wal-Mart or some such; Videoport brings you documentaries to get you all angried up), ‘The Simpsons’- season 12 (I could go on, but this show just rents itself…), ‘Dexter’- season 3 (he’s a serial killer…who only kills other serial killers; so we like him…?).
New Arrivals this week at Videoport: ‘Gossip Girl’- season 2 (it’s a reality show? Something like ‘90210’? Somebody help me out here…), ‘The Alzheimer’s Project’ (documentary series about the hideous disease that’s perhaps the best of god’s funny, funny little jokes on all of us…), Nana (find it in the Made in Japan section; two ladies with the same name get all mixed up in each others’ lives), Ulysses (necessarily pared-down film adaptation of James Joyce’s notoriously-college-student-destroying novel), The Prisoner of Zenda/The Prisoner of Zenda (yup, a double feature disc including two versions [1937 & 1952] of the venerable swashbuckler classic), ‘Total Drama Island’- season 1 (an animated comedy spoof about reality shows; find it in the Animation section, duh), ‘Sons of Anarchy’- season 1 (series about everybody’s favorite unwashed, drug-dealing, neighborhood-waking ne’er-do-wells, the modern motorcycle enthusiast).