From the filmgeeks at Videoport (151 Middle St. Portland, Maine 04102), the best, damned video store (left) in the world.
It is painfully clear that those who come up with the movie posters, previews, movie ads, and DVD box art are not the same those who have carefully, meticulously, blood, sweat, and tears-ed the content of the actual movies they’re trying to pimp. Instead, those advertising materials are the product of studio ad flacks, whose sole priority is to get in the seats and DVD sales and rental bucks in the till. And, if their money-grubbing machinations mean that they have to grossly misrepresent the content of the movies? Well…f-you, thanks for the bucks, don’t forget to buy some grossly overpriced concessions on the way in.
1. Smoke. This is one of my favorite films of all time. A slice of life about the denizens of a Brooklyn neighborhood and how their lives intersect in and around the corner tobacconist’s, Smoke boasts a nimble wit, heartfelt but hard-edged sentiment, and a full handful of truly great character performances. William Hurt and Harvey Keitel have never been better, and it’s great to see them inhabit a couple of characters who are just ordinary guys. Stunning.
The Problem: This is the DVD/VHS artwork, which makes it look like a smiley, happy-go-lucky, stylish romantic comedy. Maybe something Nora Ephron had a hand in. I have several objections to this. 1. Where are the black people? Two of the main characters in the film, each of who have about as much screen time and thematic relevance as Hurt and Keitel (and much more than Stockard Channing and Ashley Judd) are played by Forrest Whittaker and Harold Perrineau. Umm…where are they? The lesson in marketing seems to be: “Black men=scary and offputting, blonde chicks smoking stogies=rental gold.” 2. Channing, Judd and Keitel are significantly more dressed up and stylin’ than their characters ever are in the film. Keitel’s everyman is a working class shlub in short sleeves and chinos, Judd plays (in her one scene!) a strung out, be-bathrobed crackhead with bad skin and red eyes, and the ever-lovely Ms. Channing sports a freaking eye patch, for crying out loud! (Hurt’s bemused, cameo-cropped appearance on the cover is difficult to assess). The whole cover looks like it was taken from a Cannes festival photo op to promote the film, which it may have actually been. I preface my frequent recommendations of this movie by saying, “Don’t pay any attention to the cover; the movie’s actually really good”, which seems like the opposite of what you’re trying to do with your cover art.
2. Cronos. Director Guillermo Del Toro’s pre Pan’s Labyrinth sort-of vampire movie was, sure, maybe a hard sell; it was literate, clever, moody, and all foreign-y and stuff, with a main character of an old man in his sixties.
The Problem: It’s the old horror movie bait-and-switch. I’m reminded of the tale of an Italian-made horror movie about murderous fish-men, which was retitled as Screamers, I believe; the American low-budget trailer-makers made up some footage of a guy seemingly turning inside out and stuck it in the coming attractions. Well, when people got pissed that the inside-out man wasn’t in the film, the studio just slapped it in there. Anything to get the asses in the seats. Well, the sultry lass on the box here, shockingly, does not appear in the film. Nor does anyone, while being drained of blood by the gold bug vampire thingy in the film appear to be having an orgasm while it does its thing. In fact, when having their blood sucked out by the mystical doodad, said doodad’s victims seem to be quite upset. Still- hot chicks=rentals. Truth and beauty is for sissies.
3. Hellcab. I love this movie. Another slice-of-life working man’s tale, this time about the long, long nightly grind of a decent, normal (if slightlyscary looking) Chicago cabbie (played with heartbreaking normalcy by Paul Dillon) dealing with his daily allotment of kooks, creeps, and garden variety passengers. It’s just loaded with great, small roles for the likes of John Cusack, John C. Reilly, Gillian Anderson, Julianne Moore, Michael Shannon, Kevin J. O’Connor, and Harry Lennix, and anchored by Dillon’s beleaguered everyman.
The Problem: The film was originally called Chicago Cab. It was retitled HELLCAB!!!! And look at the cover art! It looks like Christine! It must be about a haunted taxicab! And look at that tagline: “Do you dare pay the fare?” Man…I don’t know if I actually do. So I’ll take this home and strap myself in for the haunted taxicab Stephen King gorefest of my life!!! Yeah…except none of that happens. Not even remotely. Sure, there are two creepy passengers (Shannon’s tweaker and Cusack’s menacingly mysterious figure), but nothing out of the realm of what a cabbie has to deal with on an average shift (just ask Videoport pal the Guak about that sometime). Plus, hey, where’s any mention or picture of the actual star, the central figure of the movie? Sure, Paul Dillon’s not going to bring in any converts by himself, but you’ve already got the ‘real stars’ featured prominently, and, anyways, fair is fair. And who cares if some poor sap customer rents your movie under false pretenses, or if some even poorer video store jerk has to explain your chicanery. A-holes.
4. Fever Pitch. No, not the terminally limp Jimmy Fallon remake, this original, based on the memoir by High Fidelity author Nick Hornby and starring Colin Firth is excellent. A lightly-fictionalized version of Hornby’s lifelong obsession with his favorite soccer team, coupled with his difficulty in balancing that obsession with any sort of mature relationship, Fever Pitch is a solid, funny, and engaging drama/comedy, with Firth lending his considerable intelligence and charm to the lead.
The Problem: Well this is just shameless. It’s Soccer Boobs! And look at that tagline: “There’s more than one way score!” Score, get it? Like with a lady, with boobs! This cover art alone assures that absolutely no one who would actually enjoy this movie will ever rent it, and that anyone attracted by the cover art will be furious, with the grunting, inarticulate rage of the boob-deprived, and driven to violence. At the very least they’ll want their money back. Again, this is a DVD I actually have to fight people into renting because the cover art is so god-awful and misleading. Oh, and why put Colin Firth’s picture on the cover? It’s not like women everywhere love him unconditionally or anything…
5. The Room Upstairs. I haven’t seen this movie. Nor will I (I mean, c’mon). But here’s the IMDb description of this 1987 Hallmark Hall of Fame TV movie “The life of a lonely and isolated woman is transformed when she opens herself up to the outside world and to a gentle, romantic relationship.”
The Problem: Well, Parker was 22 at the time, and therefore unlikely to be the ‘lonely and isolated’ woman of the description. In fact, she was listed sixth on the cast list, after the real stars like Stockard Channing (again!), Sam Waterston, and some others. And yet look- there she is, all glammed up blotting out the DVD cover. It’s another case of rebranding an obscure movie once a minor player has gotten super famous (I can think of similar shenanigans with early Demi Moore and Sharon Stone obscurities). Oh, and if you look at the back cover cast photo, Parker still looked like a real girl, still sporting her ‘Square Pegs’ hair and real nose.
6. Irreversible. I only put this one in because it doesn’t adequately prepare you for the unmitagated horror inside (that Monica Belucci sure is purty, huh?). But I don’t know what in hell could…maybe this is one case when I applaud the deception.
7. 24 Hour Party People. A funny, prankishly metatextual biopic about the Manchester music scene (Joy Division, The Happy Mondays, etc.) and Tony Wilson, the TV presenter/hustler (played brilliantly by Steve Coogan) who kept startup record label Factory going with fast talk and smoke and mirrors, 24 Hour Party People is a fun, satirical slice of little-known Britpop arcana.
The Problem: Sure, some of the music was rave-friendly, but the main thrust of the film is less (as in none) a portrait of pierced-tongued, morally-flexible party bunnies than it is a seriocomic biopic of the humorously-weaselly, in-over-his-head, middle-aged Wilson. Sure, there’s some drugs, and Wilson gets an hilariously-furtive hummer in the back of a van (and through a hole in his boxers), but those things are not the hedonistic, slap-happy craziness the cover seems to promise. Nice tongue, though.
8. What Happened Was… Another great little movie, this one is basically a two-person play about two people on a blind date who, through the course of their deepening conversation, reveal their particular secrets and peculiarities. Stars Karen Sillas and writer/director Tom Noonan are great, each inbuing their lonely, sad characters with surprising complexity.
The Problem: If it can be said to be a problem that the lovely, talented Ms. Sillas is all upside down in a peach-colored nightie it’s that, well, you know: there is no sexual content at all in the movie and neither Karen (awww) nor big Tom (that’s okay) ever gets even close to naked, or even lingeree-ed up. Instead, we get 91 minutes of conversation between a pretty (but fully-clothed) lady and a huge, odd-looking (he plays a lot of serial killers) giant-man. Again, I question the marketing as it’ll drive away the arthouse crowd it’s intended for and disappoint the boobie patrol.
So that’s my initial salvo. Have you been fooled by your DVD packaging? Are you pissed off about it? If so, don’t blame the innocent Videoport guys and gals you rented it from; ask us next time…we’ll steer you right.
For more bloggy, pop culture-y goodness, check out Dennis and Justin in Brannigan’s Law!