VideoReport #242

Volume CCXLII- Videoport the Conqueror

For the Week of 4/6/10

Videoport is just gonna say it- we’re the best movie store in the world. Best selection. Best rates. Best staff. We could dance around this all day, but…that’s just the way it is. Sorry to be all braggy, but our moms taught us never to lie.

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 Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (in Incredibly Strange). The movie (based on ‘Gong Show’ host Chuck Barris’ memoir in which he claims to have been a CIA assassin) is utterly insane and pretty great. And, if you didn’t already recognize how uniquely cool star Sam Rockwell is, rent this, go to the Special Features, and press play on the outtake labeled ‘Gong Show’. You will thank me.

Tough and Triassic Tuesday. (Get one free rental from the Action or Classics sections with your paid rental.)

>>> Elsa S. Customer suggests you take home two from the Action aisle: Kill Bill Volumes I and II (in Martial Arts). The master of the postmodern pastiche does it again: Quentin Tarantino hits you with a one-two kick — or a double-barreled blast, depending on your fighting style. Kill Bill delivers loving homages to action flicks of almost every stripe, from the stylized grandeur of samurai films to chopsocky kung-fu-sploitation, and all along the gamut: Spaghetti western, martial arts, anime, biker movie, women in prison (okay, “women in hospital”) exploitation, Giallo. At its center, of course, Kill Bill is a revenge narrative. The Bride (played by Uma Thurman, who all but defines the phrase tour de force) is making a list of those who wronged her and left her for dead. At the top of it — you guessed it — is Bill (David Carradine in a restrained, graceful performance that makes me miss him all the more). The marketing department chopped Kill Bill in two, but with the magic of DVD (or BluRay), you can enjoy the film at its original epic length, with a quick intermission while you change the discs and catch your breath.

Wacky and Worldly Wednesday. (Get one free rental from the Comedy or Foreign Language sections with your paid rental.)

>>> Elsa S. Customer suggests The Orphanage (in Foreign Language). Watching a classic ghost story, new or old, is a bit like listening to a familiar piece of classical music played by a talented pianist. Director Juan Antonio Bayona and writer Sergio G. Sanchez hit all the familiar notes of domestic horror, and to keep them fresh and vibrant. Laura (Belén Rueda) and her husband Carlos (Fernando Cayo) buy the rambling old orphanage where Laura grew up, intending to found a home for disabled or disadvantage children. Of course, it’s not long before trouble crops up: an unexpected visitor announces herself as a social worker with unwelcome questions; their adopted son Simón talks about his imaginary friends; Laura’s childhood memories, at first nostalgic, turn unsettling. Bayona wisely refrains from the scare chords and cheater’s cuts that are the mainstay of modern ghost stories, and instead relies on subtle acting, character-driven interaction, and building tension to create a creeping, uneasy atmosphere. The Orphanage is his directorial debut, and it shows a delicacy and grace that make me eager to see his future work.

Thrifty Thursday. (Get one free movie from any section with your paid rental.)

>>>April suggests you let go of your stubborn attachment to stupid spoken words by presenting an all silent film addition of April’s VHS corner (all in Classics, of course)! Here are some great silent films that Videoport has only on glorious VHS!

Wings (Clara Bow) out of print on dvd! But it looks like a blu-ray version will be coming soon. It won the FIRST Oscar ever for best picture! Yay! Wings is a tale of two men who vie for the attention of Sylvia (Jobyna Ralston). Sylvia loves David, David loves Sylvia, Jack loves Sylvia, and Mary (Bow) loves Jack. Sylvia doesn’t love Jack but doesn’t have the heart to tell him since both he and David are going off to fight in World War I. Mary wants to tell Jack she loves him but doesn’t. Both women give Jack their pictures to take with him as a good luck charm. David takes an old little teddy bear his mother gives him. Both men become aviators and that’s when the real fun starts. The comedy comes in the form of a German-American who’s running gag is his American flag tattoo. Bow (not wanting to be left behind) joins in the war effort by becoming an ambulance driver. Gary Cooper has a small role as Cadet White. Wings has some of the best biplane scenes ever shot on film. I highly recommend it.

Queen Kelly (starring Gloria Swanson and directed by Erik von Stroheim) on dvd but Videoport doesn’t have it… yet. An unfinished film due to Gloria’s dislike of Stroheim’s “African brothel scenes” that she claims she thought were set in a dance hall when she was filming them. When she saw the rushes she realized it was meant to be a brothel she had Stroheim fired and completed the film herself, taking out all the scenes set in Africa. The “Swanson Ending” is set entirely in Europe. As luck would have it Videoport’s VHS version is the Kino Video restoration of Stroheim’s vision, they completed it using photos and the few scenes that remain of the African sequences. Swanson plays Patricia Kelly, a convent girl who is seduced by a Prince. When the Queen finds out what has happened she beats Swanson and has her thrown out of the castle. In Swanson’s version her character dies soon afterwards. In Stroheim’s version she leaves Europe and goes to Africa to visit her aunt, is forced to marry an older man while her aunt is on her death bed, and inherits the brothel when her aunt dies. Refusing to stay with her new husband she becomes the brothel’s new madam. She is called “Queen Kelly” because of her extravagant lifestyle. It’s high melodrama at it’s best and Stroheim’s sets and costumes are brilliant. It’s easy to see why Swanson thought he was being too lavish. Be sure to keep an eye on Seena Owen who plays Queen Regina. She’s amazing! (and half naked most of the time, although with a conveniently placed cat)

Orphans of the Storm (Lillian & Dorothy Gish) on DVD but Videoport doesn’t have it… yet. Directed by D.W. Griffith, Orphans is set during the French revolution. Lillian plays Henriette and Dorothy is her blind adopted sister Louise. In hopes of curing Louise’s blindness the sisters travel to Paris and are separated from each other. Henriette is kidnapped by the evil Marquis de Praille and Louise is forced to beg by a woman called Mother Frochard. Griffith is a little heavy handed with the historical and political aspects of the film but, like Queen Kelly, it’s got some awesome sets and costumes.

Broken Blossoms (Lillian Gish & Richard Barthelmess) on DVD but Videoport doesn’t have it… yet. Richard Barthelmess isn’t remembered now but in the silent years he was a brilliant actor. In G.W. Griffith’s Broken Blossoms he plays a Chinese man who falls in love with Lillian Gish, a white woman who has run away from her abusive father and finds solace with Barthelmess. Their happiness is short lived, however, and ultimately ends badly for both of them. While this film would be seen as racist today (a white actor playing an Asian man, opium dens, an unhappy ending) you have the feeling while watching it that Griffith meant the audience to have sympathetic feelings towards Barthelmess’ character. Gish is amazing in her role as Lucy, the battered daughter of a boxer.

P.S. If anyone is interested in joining my Silent Film Enthusiasts Club, email me at pepi.lederer@yahoo.com.

Free Kids Friday. (Get one free rental from the Children’s or Family sections, no other rental necessary).

>>> Dennis suggests letting unsupervised children manhandle your cell phone. Oh, what’s that? That’s a terrible idea, since children haven’t the understanding of how to handle sensitive electronic equipment or the responsibility necessary to take care of them? Huh. Hadn’t thought of that…hey! How could we apply this lesson to DVD handling?

Having a Wild Weekend. (Rent two, get your third movie for free from any section on Saturday and Sunday.)

>>>For Saturday, April suggests ‘Degrassi Junior High’ (in Feature Drama). I have to admit that I didn’t watch ‘Degrassi’ when I was a kid and only saw it when Videoport got it on DVD. I was blown away at how realistically it showed life as a pre-teen and teenager in the late 80s. Sex, drugs, violence, teen pregnancy, peer pressure and everything else that teens deal with is here, but it’s not all ‘after school special’. It’s shows real kids with real problems. It’s awesome. And Canadian! Then in 2001, they made a new ‘Degrassi’ and, although the new kids deal with many of the same problems as the 80s kids, it’s intensified, with the issues of the aughts like cell phones and computers which only lead to some creepy encounters with scummy internet predators and such. All this means is I don’t like the new ‘Degrassi’ because I was in the 8th grade in 1995 and in 1995 nobody I knew had a cell phone, let alone a pager (remember those?) and only a few people I knew had a home computer. So it’s easier for me to relate to the ’87 show.

>>>For Sunday, Regan suggests Valley Girl and Real Genius (in Comedy). This week Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans is coming to a Videoport near you! I’m not enjoying this ridiculous movie as much as an Andy or a Bill, but watching Nicholas Cage and Val Kilmer takes me back to when they both starred in some totally amazing Martha Coolidge movies. Oh yeah. That’s right. Valley Girl and Real Genius. Dammit, I love both so much!! Real Genius has been playing for nearly nine hours in the store today. (“This goes under ‘h’ for ‘toy’.) And Valley Girl has a soundtrack that introduced me to The Sparks. Ask Andy about The Sparks, he’ll cream his jeans.

New Releases this week at Videoport: Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (in the utterly bananas movie idea of the week, idiosyncratic German genius director Werner Herzog decides to remake/make a sequel to/satirize Abel Ferrara’s notoriously lurid 1992 cop flick with Nicholas Cage and Val Kilmer), ‘Party Down’- season 1 (I couldn’t be more excited for this sitcom about a catering company, starring as it does some alums ‘The State’ [Ken Marino] and ‘Freaks and Geeks’ [Martin Starr], along with certified comedy goddess Jane Lynch), Taxidermia (I’m just gonna let the synopsis from the IMDb take this one: “Gyorgy Palfi’s grotesque tale of three generations of men, including an obese speed eater, an embalmer of gigantic cats, and a man who shoots fire out of his penis.”), The Collector (this serial killer flick’s cover brags that it’s from the writer of Saw 4, 5, & 6…so you know it’s good), ‘Being Erica’- season 1 (Canadian series about the odd relationship between a young woman and her therapist), The Yes Men Fix the World (documentary about the prankster pair who periodically make life miserable for corporate America), Jade Warrior (big budget martial arts goodness!).

New Arrivals this week at Videoport: Sharpe’s Peril (Sean Bean returns as the titular Sharpe, swashbuckling his way through Imperial India on behalf of Her Majesty), Youssou N’Dour: I Bring What I Love (documentary about the famous Senegalese singer in Egypt), La France (Sylvie Tedtud’s husband writes her from the WWI trenches that he’s left her. Nope! She dresses up like a guy and goes to war and find him), Yesterday Was a Lie (pretty lady looks for…something. Anyone interested in a position as a research assistant?), Storm (new from the Film Movement series comes this drama about a woman investigating Serbian war crimes), ‘Lark Rise to Candleford’ (BBC costume miniseries about a 19th century lass yearning to become a postmistress), Resurrection (Ellen Burstyn is great in this 1980 film about a woman who finds she can heal people after a near death experience), Carny (Lou Diamond Phillips will save us from demented circus freaks!), 4 Little Girls (Spike Lee’s documentary about the murder of the titular children by racist a-holes), 211: Anna (investigative documentary about the death of a Russian reporter who just happened to be onto some big, ugly government doings at the time…), Tom and Huck (Mark Twain, start spinnin’ all over again…)

New Arrivals on Blu-Ray this week at Videoport: Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, The Collector, Hellboy 2, Hellboy, Ocean’s 13, Gran Torino, The Mask, Edward Scissorhands, Toy Story, Toy Story 2, The Mask, Collateral, John Woo’s The Killer.

Play MF-ing BALL!!! Finally!!!! A movie list from Dennis

Of course, as Videoport owner Bill will tell you, sports are stupid and pointless and certainly nothing to watch in lieu of movies and TV shows rented from Videoport, but still…I’ve been waiting so long!!!! Do you people know how long the winters are around here?! And how long it’s been since I heard anyone yell YOOOUUUUKKKK?!?! It’s all I live for, don’t you people know that?!?!?

Ahem. Anyway, here’s my list of the all-time best and worst baseball movies. (See Bill, movies and baseball can go together in a profitable partnership of wonderfulness…)

The Worst:

So...what time's kickoff?

>Major League. Apart from the bad luck to be released parallel to Bull Durham (see ‘The Best’ category), and thus inviting comparisons between the Berenger/Sheen and Costner/Robbins duos, this movie pisses me off to no end for one simple reason: it has zero respect for baseball. Seriously, these guys could be wacky jai-alai players for all the baseball verisimilitude on display. Pedro Serrano could not only be a major league player, but a season-long starter without being able to hit a curve ball…ever!?! WTF!?! Toss in the limp script and utter lack of convincing baseball action, and I want to set this movie on fire.

Purgatory:

>Bang the Drum Slowly. Sure, I get teared up at the end. I’m a big girl after all, welded to a huge, hairy baseball freak. But this has to be one of the younger Robert Deniro’s worst performances; I get that he’s supposed to be a bumpkinny, hayseedy type, but he way overdoes it. His dimwitted catcher is almost literally mentally-challenged, and very, very uninvolving. Michael Moriarty saves his ass, acting-wise. (I like Albert Salmi’s take on the role in the original TV version on the Golden Age of TV collection in the Criterion section at Videoport.)

>*61. This is actually a really good portrayal of the legendary 1961 home run race between teammates Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle, directed by Billy Crystal of all people. It lands in tweener-land because it’s about the Yankees.

Hey, this baseball movie's goin' great, huh? I think I'll put John Travolta's wife in it...

>For Love of the Game. The actual game stuff, about an aging pitcher who finds himself in the middle of a possible last perfect game, is very compelling and moving (John C. Reilly’s best pal catcher is affecting as hell), but the flashback-y crap with the pitcher making goo-goo eyes at Mrs. John Travolta drags the whole thing to a slog. Kevin Costner shouldn’t make any movies that aren’t about baseball.

The Best:

>Field of Dreams. You can call it shamelessly manipulative. You can call it sappy. You can say it deifies a silly kids’ game out of all proportion. And I can’t really argue with you on any point. But, when James Earl Jones intones: “Ray, people will come, Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won’t mind if you look around, you’ll say. It’s only $20 per person. They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they’ll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh… people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.”…well, I got teary-eyed just cut-and-pasting it into this newsletter. I swear to god.

>Eight Men Out. Personal hero John Sayles’ recounting of the notorious Black Sox scandal is, like most

My heart is in pieces just looking at this...

of his works, a great, resonant film and a trenchant examination of the social forces underlying American life, and, being about baseball, it also destroys me. Again, I point to a climactic speech, this time a heartbreaker from John Cusack’s Buck Weaver, who Sayles’ film maintains is the honest-yet-tragic hero of the piece, as he contemplates his possible exile from the game he loves more than anything in the world: “You get out there, and the stands are full and everybody’s cheerin’. It’s like everybody in the world come to see you. And inside of that there’s the players, they’re yakkin’ it up. The pitcher throws and you look for that pill… suddenly there’s nothing else in the ballpark but you and it. Sometimes, when you feel right, there’s a groove there, and the bat just eases into it and meets that ball. When the bat meets that ball and you feel that ball just give, you know it’s going to go a long way. Damn, if you don’t feel like you’re going to live forever.” I…I think there’s something in my eye…excuse me…

>Sugar. My pick for the best film of 2009. This tale of a young Dominican pitching prospect trying to make his way to the majors, and his way through small-town, single-A ball in America is as moving, authentic, and compelling a baseball film (and a film of any kind) I’ve seen in years. I love this movie. (See a more extensive review way back in VideoReport #215, either online at our movie blog www.videoportjones.wordpress.com or in the big, black binders to read it on old-fashioned paper and stuff.)

>Bull Durham. Director Ron Shelton played minor league ball for years, and this, the best baseball film of all time, shows it; it is simply imbued with the spirit of the game. Costner is great (really) as Crash Davis, the oldest catcher still in the minors, a baseball genius trapped in a body almost, but not quite, good enough, and Tim Robbins (despite some truly embarrassing pitching mechanics) is as good as he’s ever been as Ebby Calvin ‘Nuke’ Laloosh, the bonus baby with, as Davis pegs him, “a million dollar arm and a five cent head”, the can’t miss prospect that Crash is assigned to shepherd to the show. Hilarious, poetic, heartbreaking, and (thanks to Susan Sarandon) really, really sexy, Bull Durham is the cinematic soul of the game. Oh, and, by the way- Sox win on Opening Day! Suck it Yankees!

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