Justin Ellis of the Press Herald and I break down the week’s new releases (8/18/09)

Videoport Jones assures me the long summer of our discontent, at least in terms of new DVD releases, will be over soon enough. After all, the studios have to make way for all the sweet, sweet candy they need to get on shelves for the holiday season. And that’s how we end up with some gems and garbage this week, ranging from a once-menacing prize fighter to still-menacing Italian mob and, well, a horror remake that’s too sleazy for the good Dr. Jones. That’s never a good sign.

Gomorra

Videoport Jones: “Sure, the summer movie slump is upon us, where the studios shake the underperforming and underwhelming flicks they’ve got littering their cupboards out to make room for the socko, boffo moneymakers to come, but that just means the field’s a little less crowded, allowing some lesser known gems to shine forth.  (Yeah, I’m playing ‘glass-half-full guy’ here.)   So this is the perfect time for this universally-lauded Italian mob film to grace the Videoport shelves.  Some background:  based on a nonfiction book by an intrepid guy who went undercover (even working as a waiter at mob weddings) inside the Camorra, a Naples crime syndicate that’s like the Mafia, only, apparently, nastier and even more secretive, ‘Gomorra’ tells the tale of the lowest-level mob slobs, selling drugs, making knockoff designer goods, dumping some toxic waste, and obsessing over Brian DePalma’s ‘Scarface.’  Shot in a grimy, documentary style on location, the film takes great pains to show how these deluded little thug wannabes get sucked into the mob life with American movie-bred dreams of power, luxury, and banging Michelle Pfeiffer only to learn, once they’re firmly trapped in the endless (except for death) cycle of crime, that all those adolescent fantasies are completely unattainable.  Not that they ever learn much.  It’s a grim, realistic, utterly un-flashy take on the realities of being a mobbed-up jerk.  If that helps sell even one less Scarface t-shirt at Hot Topic, then, well, Gomorra’s done us all a favor.”

Justin: “No one should love ‘Scarface’ that much. And I LOVE ‘Scarface,’ like in a recite-lines kind of way. But not in the ‘I need a poster, a lamp and a tiger pit’ kind of way. I feel like most directors and producers of so-called ‘mob movies’ would say they’re not glamorizing the mafia lifestyle. And yet, there’s Pacino doing whatever the hell he pleases as Tony Montana and Michael Corleone. There’s Denzel living the good life as Frank Lucas. There’s DeNiro running a freaking CASINO as Sam Rothstein. Time after time, that’s what we get from these movies, and then the inevitable (and typically gruesome) ‘fall from grace.’ And we are supposed to take something away from that? Let’s give ‘Gomorra’ two big points for A.) giving us a genuine and sinister mafia, and B.) highlighting the bag men, runners and general knockaround guys. (Wait…that was another mob movie.) The fact is that what makes the kingpins (and fantastic cinema characters) isn’t just a ruthless (but charming, naturally) leader, but an army of small, faceless and expendable climbers.”

Tyson

VPJ: “No, not a documentary about the chicken magnate. This one’s instead, a doc about the former heavyweight champ, erstwhile convicted rapist, and current object of morbid curiosity Mike Tyson, directed by pal and oddball filmmaker James Toback (‘Fingers,’ ‘Black and White,’ ‘When Will I Be Loved’).  The two men have been pals for 20 years (Toback directed him, as himself, being terrifying in ‘Black and White’), and the film shows that.  There’s no real pretense of objectivity here; Toback is giving Tyson the opportunity to tell his version of his life story, and, I gotta say, Iron Mike comes off pretty well.  He’s startlingly open on some of his faults, his missteps, his past and as he talks, as ever with that shockingly innocent, lisping little boy’s voice, about his awful childhood, his lifelong battle with depression, his manipulation at the hands of, among other people, the utterly amoral Don King. I couldn’t help but be fascinated, and, yeah, even  a little moved.  Undoubtedly a damaged and dangerous man in lots of ways, Tyson emerges as a man, and not the monster he worked so hard to fashion himself into.”

JE: “I don’t have much patience for Tobak as a filmmaker. ‘Black and White’ was mildly entertaining, but not the cultural commentary he wanted. I caught part of ‘When Will I Be Loved’ on IFC and changed the channel after about 20 minutes. That was 20 minutes I could have been watching ‘Mythbusters’ or even The Weather Channel. Still, this movie may grant him an exemption because he’s showcasing the one thing he has always had going for him: access and proximity to Iron Mike. Talk about an enigma. Thanks to his performance in the ring and exploits out of it, this guy was arguably one of the most terrifying characters in recent history. At the same time, he has this incredible story that seems tailor-made for America: young boy comes from nothing to rise up and find focus, fame and fortune. But what a strange trip. Who would have thought back in 1988 after Tyson destroyed Michael Spinks (91 seconds and a knockout, people) that by 2009, Tyson would be a punchline at best and a tragic figure at worst? How can you not be fascinated by him? This one is on my ‘must watch’ list.”

Surveillance

VPJ: “David Lynch’s daughter is directing another movie…RUN! That was my first reaction on hearing about this new dark thriller from filmmaker Jennifer Lynch and, while it may be unfair and reductive to bring up her relation to her much more acclaimed dad, well, she did make ‘Boxing Helena,’ possibly the most unintentionally-hilarious movie since Ed Wood first strapped on a set of pumps.  Seriously, you should see ‘Boxing Helena’ at some point in your life, just to see how something, planned as a serious, surreal, psychological thriller could go so ludicrously off the rails;  Julian Sands’ performance requires a roll of paper towels for all the adult beverage (which you’ll need) that you’ll shoot out of your nose.  So…she’s back.  And she’s bringing us another ‘dark, edgy, psychological thriller’ (this time starring the reliably-steady Bill Pullman [former star of one of dad’s movies] rather than the lost-from-view Sands) and I’m ready!  Unfortunately, from the reviews, this one does not hold the promise of another legendary catastrophe – the word on the street is that it’s … just mediocre.  Sorry, Jennifer – that’s just not good enough for me…”

JE: “Masterpiece or trainwreck. Videoport Jones has no time for anything less. Don’t sell this story too short, my friend. It also features Julia Ormond (not bad), Michael Ironside (legendary, in a B-movie kind of way) and French Stewart (no information available). So it has that going for it. Here’s what you need to know about the plot, it’s a ‘let’s solve a crime where everything is not exactly what it seems.’ As you would say, ‘Dun-Dun-DAAAAAHH!’ Look, what are you gonna do when your dad is David Lynch, and oh yeah, one of your earliest film credits is appearing in ‘Eraserhead.’ Your dad made movies like ‘Lost Highway’ and ‘Mulholland Dr.,’ which, to this day, even after repeated viewings, I still don’t get. So yeah, what are you supposed to do with that? Become a veterinarian? Still, if we are grading on a sliding scale, then yes, anything is better than a love story where a guy repeatedly amputates his love interest. I have just given myself the wiggins.”

The Last House on the Left

VPJ: “Oh yeah, the world needed this … Now, as anyone who knows (and therefore keeps a safe distance from) me knows, I am no stranger to, nor an out-of-hand dismisser of, horror films.  Even sleazy horror films (some might say especially sleazy horror films, and they wouldn’t be wrong).  But one film that I’ve always genuinely hated was the original ‘Last House on the Left.’  It’s not just the subject matter (the ever-grimy and disreputable ‘rape revenge’ genre), it’s that the film was so ill-made and offputting;  Wes Craven (later a majillionaire for creating the ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ movies) was an even more terrible director when he was younger, and the complete lack of artistry, imagination, or style in the movie just makes me sad and sort of pissed off.  I just feel sorry for the actresses (two young girls kidnapped, humiliated and killed by some creeps).  There’s nothing going on there but cynical exploitation of the audience’s desire to see them raped for about a half hour and, with literally no actual filmmaking skill around the proceedings, the whole thing is just a big, foul, festering lump up there on the screen.  And so now there’s a remake!  I’m sure the technical skill is more competent (how could it not be), but that just ensures a nice, bland veneer to the misogyny.  Don’t get me wrong…I love sleaze, but a below-average, competent, Hollywood remake of a notoriously reprehensible amateurish cult trash film is not going to satisfy.”

JE: “Wow, man. Sometimes you just leave me with nothing to work with. I’m not going to argue with you on any of those points, but perhaps expound on them a bit. First, in some ways, aren’t all horror films a little misogynistic in a way? It always comes down to some virginal young girl who may or may not have forgotten to wear a bra wandering some place she shouldn’t be and being subsequently hunted and butchered. OR, in the best of twists, she survives and gets revenge! Second, while I may not be a big fan of horror (really it’s Scandinavian animated features or nothing for me), I think the ‘revenge’ plotline is always going to be a seller, like it or not. I think the ‘and then they get EVEN’ angle of ‘Last House’ is interesting because it twists things and makes the victim the attacker, but you just know it’s going to get gruesome when all is said and done. Last, it’s a remake, my friend. And that’s just a blown deal from the beginning. But don’t worry, we’ll find some good ol’ sleaze and go ‘Mystery Science Theater’ on it soon enough.”

Today’s Parting Shots:

– Mob films: Do they glamorize the lifestyle or not? Examples?
– Mike Tyson: Beast or misunderstood beast?
– Are all horror films based in misogyny?

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Published in: on August 18, 2009 at 8:18 pm  Leave a Comment  
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