Videoport Jones on the new releases for 2/23/10

From The Portland Press Herald’s Justin Ellis:

This week Videoport Jones flies solo! No, we are not going through a painful break-up. Fear not. Unfortunately due to some scheduling snafus on my part and other matters needing tending to, I’ve got other things needing tending to. But I’ll be back in shape next week. Meanwhile, Jonesy has discovered a love of…soccer? Maybe we should be concerned.

The Damned United:

“I don’t want to shock anyone out there in Press Herald land, or tarnish your up -’til-now sterling opinion of me, but…I watched a soccer movie. And I liked it! See, I’m the jackass who wears Red Sox jerseys all year long, and, yeah, I’ve been known to make a joke at soccer’s expense (as well as hockey – I think I need some sense of set plays and strategy, rather than the impression that people are just scooting around all willy-nilly), but I gotta say, this one was pretty damned (get it?) good. The true tale of infamous soccer coach Brian Clough, whose 44 day reign at the helm of perennial football powerhouse Leeds United is, apparently the stuff of legend in old Blighty. ‘The Damned United,’ despite the fact that none of the people or events involved meant a single, tiny, solitary thing to me (and, to be honest, still don’t), comes Videoport Jones recommended because of the central performance from Michael Sheen. Sheen’s been absolutely riveting in ‘The Queen’ and ‘Frost/Nixon’ (both written by ‘The Damned United’s’ Peter Morgan), and he brings the heat (or the, hell, kicking, I guess) again as the cocky, tormented Clough who made a career of taking woebegone underdog football teams to the top, discovering young or forgotten players, and royally pissing off owners. Until he decided to take over his former hated rival, the mighty Leeds, and its vacated coaching job, formerly held by his former nemesis the smug Don Revie (keep in mind that British people think this is way more interesting). Clough had long held that Leeds, led by Revie, had long epitomized thuggish, monied, dishonest football and he began his tenure as their leader by telling the players so. It’s sort of like if the manager of the Kansas City Royals got the Yankees job and told his new charges that they were overpaid cogs in the heartless, soulless, arrogant victory machine that is the Yankee legacy…now let’s play ball! The film is less a sports movie (there is shockingly, and perhaps welcome-ly little game action) and more a character study of the brash, outwardly-confident Clough and his relationships with the hateful Revie (Colm Meaney), his one time, exasperated boss (Jim Broadbent), and his longtime, long-suffering assistant Peter Taylor (a heartbreakingly-sweet Timothy Spall; I would like to point out that the three supporting actors – all great – seem to suggest that British men are DNA-bonded with basset hounds), and his self-destructive drive to avenge a one-time, possibly-imagined slight from Revie. Sure, the psychology’s a little pat, and the conflict scenes’ dialogue sounds pretty familiar, but Sheen’s performance is fantastic, cementing his place in the list of actors I will seek out in absolutely anything. Even in soccer movies.”

The Box:

“Richard Kelly isn’t very good. Sorry dude, but an unpaid, pseudonymous amateur movie reviewer in a Maine paper’s online daily proclaims it so. Sure, you started out strong with ‘Donnie Darko,’ building serious indie cult cred which, unfortunately you squandered with the utter ineptitude of ‘Southland Tales.’ Seriously, rarely has a sophomore effort so exposed the previously-hidden weaknesses of a new director, and Kelly’s subsequent release of a ‘Donnie Darko’ director’s cut which effectively finished demystifying both that film and his reputation by revealing that, when he’s left to his own devices, he makes a really dumb movie. Now he’s trying to pull a Shyamalan and letting a cool/silly premise carry things along, and the results are…fine. Cameron Diaz and James Marsden play a couple of cash-strapped and, frankly, dull and unsympathetic yuppies who get delivered the titular box, along with the knowledge that, if they open it, they’ll receive a million dollars! Cool! But hold on, if they do that, then one random person, unknown to them, will die. Dum-dumm-DUMMM!!! It’s a cool/silly idea, which is why writer Richard Matheson thought of it a long time ago, and why it’s been filmed several times before (including on an episode of ‘The Twilight Zone’). The question is what does Kelly do with the admittedly-can’t-miss premise? Not much, really. Diaz and Marsden do nothing for me, and Kelly has yet to master the art of, what do you call it? Oh yeah, telling a coherent story. ‘The Box’s’ premise will hold your attention, even as the movie’s deliberate vagueness annoys you.”

The Informant!:

“Steven Soderbergh might be the most profligate filmmaker working today. New styles, challenging subjects, a relentless pace- sometimes he reminds me of Pedro Martinez in his prime; at a certain point it was like Martinez was so far above everybody else, it was like he was just trying out some new stuff out there on the mound. Soderbergh keeps mixing up his pitches, alternating the blazing, unabashedly-commercial fastballs like the ‘Oceans’ movies, ‘Erin Brockovich,’ and ‘Traffic’ with the slow, sweeping curves of ‘Che,’ ‘Solaris,’ and ‘The Limey,’ only to, every once on a while, bust out with an absolutely-bewildering (as in destined not to produce a hit) knuckler like ‘The Girlfriend Experience,’ ‘Bubble,’ ‘Schizopolis,’ ‘Kafka’ or ‘Full Frontal.’ (Of course, like any great, risk-taking pitcher, he will toss an ‘Ocean’s Twelve’ all the way to the backstop.) As for ‘The Informant!,’ well, from reliable sources in the Videoport community (sue me – I haven’t seen it yet) I hear this one’s like an unexpected but impressive breaking pitch, coming in looking big and fat (big star – Matt Damon – based on a true story about a corporate whistleblower, a la Erin Brockovich), only to make a late, unexpected stylistic and narrative curve as it comes in. On an unrelated note, I really miss baseball season.”

Everybody’s Fine:

“Is there anything more painful than watching Robert DeNiro try to do comedy? ‘World’s greatest actor’ and all, but the man is a serious stiffy us there. In this one, a soppy dramedy remake of an Italian film (available, and far more recommended, at Videoport) he plays a criminally-bland recent widower who decides to show up unannounced at the homes of his four grown children. Sure, the ever-interesting Sam Rockwell is one of the kids (and wouldn’t it be nice to see him alongside DeNiro in a good movie?), but the whole is dopily repetitive and, as the A.V. Club as-ever on target says, “plays like a homogenized, Hallmark Channel version of ‘About Schmidt’ with the rough edges filed off”. Wish I’d thought of that burn first…”

Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant:

“Look! It’s like ‘Twilight!’ If you look at the cover real fast and don’t ask too many questions! Sigh…the teen vampire corpsewagon creaks on and I, being a semi-professional, actually watched this one. Well, the first half. Which I soon fast-forwarded through to get to the parts with John C. Reilly. Hey, if I’m not gonna get paid Ebert-size bucks, I’ll use my ‘FF’ powers as I see fit. Anyway, this one suffers from, well being awful certainly, but more specifically from a schizophrenia of tone. The filmmakers want to ride the teen vamp train to moneytown so they cast a (sorta) hunky teen guy as the titular undead lackey (who takes on the curse to save his friend), but it’s also got a serious case of the Tim Burtons, with a Beetlejuice black comic silliness running through the tale of an ages-long vampire civil war. It’s all a very unsatisfying mishmash, and alternately dull and silly. But, while I’m not recommending a first-run rental (talk about an evening-wrecker), I will say that John C. Reilly (as the lead vamp/freakshow magician) is just nifty. Sporting a nearly-CarrotToppian curly red coif on top of his perpetually-soulful everyman puss, Reilly lends the whole mediocre enterprise an unwarranted vein (sorry) of dignity and comic energy. (Plus, when he first takes the stage to work his sleight-of-hand, I got a pleasant Reed Rothchild flashback). Also, Salma Hayek is still completely hot with a full beard.”

The September Issue:

“This documentary, about editor Anna Wintour’s struggles to put to bed the massive titular issue of Vogue magazine is the sort of thing, dealing as it does with fashion, ‘Project Runway’, perfume, ribbons, and the like, which I usually skip. And I did. However, those more ambitious (and dare I say professional) than I assure me that this doc is pretty riveting and, dealing as it does with the publishing and journalism (sorta) field as it does, perhaps you’ve got an inside track on this one, Justin.”

Trailer Park Boys – Countdown to Liquor Day:

“If you have never experienced the comedy magic that is The Trailer Park Boys’ show, an hilarious Canadian series about the peerlessly-white-trashy residents of a rundown mobile home establishment, then you should go to Videoport and rent it all, start to finish, right now. (It’s not that you need a lot of backstory to understand the events of this, their second feature film, I’m just doing you a favor.)”

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Published in: on February 25, 2010 at 2:25 pm  Leave a Comment  
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