VideoReport #251

Volume CCLI- The Good, the Bad and the Ethically-Shaky

For the Week of 6/8/10

Videoport will give you a free movie every single day, has deals to give you free money, has the best selection and staff anywhere, and will even get you free parking if you’re not careful…

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.)

>>>Elsa S. Customer suggests ‘Neverwhere’ (in Sci Fi Fantasy). Before Stardust or Coraline or MirrorMask, beloved fantasy author and noted goofball Neil Gaiman brought us the BBC single-season series Neverwhere (the basis for the novel and the graphic novel of the same name). One day, everyman protagonist Richard Mayhew has all the modest gifts that he asks for: a mid-level job, a pretty and successful (if not-very-nice) fiancée, a friend or two, a comfortable apartment in London, a little nest egg in the bank. One act of Good Samaritanism later, Richard is playing nursemaid to a magical girl with a nasty wound and even nastier enemies, he’s all but invisible to other Londoners, and his fiancée and co-workers have no memory of him. And that’s before the trouble starts. Like so many of the BBC’s productions made on the cheap, Neverwhere has that cheesy Doctor Who glimmer to it, which just makes it all the more endearing; they made this series with love, ingenuity, and about £20. The six episodes spread across two DVDs, but hey, it’s two-for-one: pick up both today so you can watch the whole thing in one go!

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

>>> Dennis suggests They Live By Night/Side Street and Act of Violence/Mystery Street (in Classics). I’m just gonna say this by way of warning: this may be the greatest deal in movie-renting history!!! Yeah, Videoport has just brought in these two double feature film noir discs for your fedora-topped, unfiltered Chesterfield-mugged delight. You’ve got shadows, gats, Oldsmobiles, cleavage on dames, butt chins on guys named Howard and Mack, and Charlie. You’ve got cruel fate and raw deals, and double-crosses. You will definitely see a guy get plugged. And, since these are packaged together on a pair of double feature discs, I’m gonna go ahead and suggests that you take ’em both!!! That means on a Tuesday, you can rent all four, excellent films for just the cost of one rental. Let that sink in for a second…

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

>>> Dennis suggests ‘Psych’ (in Comedy). I resisted this show for a long time. It just seemed sort of lightweight, sort of silly. But I was gradually worn down; pal (and former Press Herald film writer/reporter extraordinaire) Justin Ellis and his excellent special ladyfriend have a brace of ‘Psych’ bobbleheads in their living room, I heard a steady buzz of approbation (and steady cha-ching of

Dule shoots him this look a lot.

rentals) from Videoport customers, and it stars Dule Hill, who was inarguably great as Charlie Young on personal all-time favorite ‘The West Wing’. So the lovely Ms. Customer and I dove in this past week and…it’s undeniably lightweight and sort of silly. The central premise (ne’er-do-well cop’s son with an innate, almost preternatural, observational gift finds that he can pass himself off as a psychic, solve some crimes, and make some money, all the while aided by his lifelong, and more responsible, best pal) is HIGH CONCEPT, with the same ‘hero with a special gift’ idea that American TV just can’t get enough of (see: ‘House’, ‘The Mentalist’, ‘Lie to Me’, etc, etc) but, I gotta say, the two leads are pretty darned winning. Of course, Hill is great; as the sensible one, he has to play straight man (and gets a lot of mileage out of that exasperated eye-rolling look he used to shoot at White House staffers when no one was looking), but he’s allowed some breathing room to show a funny, playful side. He’s all quiet charisma. And, as the main character, I should be annoyed by James Roday: he’s playing ‘wacky and irrepressible’ and that can get old real fast. But, I gotta say, he’s pretty funny; he has an infectious energy that stays just this side of offputting and I really like his and Hill’s chemistry. Sure, the mysteries are, let’s call them unchallenging, and the show’s persistent desire to insert the ‘skeptical cop’ and ‘potential love interest’ characters is utterly unnecessary, but ‘Psych’ is a breezy, pleasant diversion.

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

>>>Elsa S. Customer suggests Jacob’s Ladder (in Mystery/Thriller). It’s a pretty spooky and promisingly vague premise: former doctoral candidate and Vietnam veteran Jacob Singer starts to experience mysterious visions and fears. He’s pursued in the streets and in the subway by unknown figures, he has flashes of memory that seem out of joint, he sees things — terrible things. The overall effect is The Manchurian Candidate meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and the gently authentic period details reinforce that latter association. Adrian Lyne’s brief resume shouldn’t give you much hope for this movie. Lyne seems to specialize in sloppy, schlocky, faux-controversial, hyper-sexualized trash like Indecent Proposal, 9½ Weeks, and Fatal Attraction. And Jacob’s Ladder has some of the same flaws: Lyne hammers home the themes too hard, not letting us luxuriate long in the ambiguous

Mr. Heebie, meet Mr. Jeebie...

possibilities; toward the end, the story begins to feel a little overplotted and plodding. But even so, the film holds up surprisingly well even after two decades: the story keeps jumping and jerking around like a snake wrestling in your grasp, there are some powerful images that will stay with you long after you’ve turned off the DVD, and the performances are rich and effective. Particularly notable are Tim Robbins (The Player, Bull Durham) as the afflicted Jacob and the criminally underused Elizabeth Peña (Lone Star, The Waterdance, Tortilla Soup) as Jacob’s mercurial girlfriend Jezzie. (Peña’s part as the snappy, saucy, sexually available Latina is loaded with Unfortunate Implications, but she delivers all the levels you could look for, and more.) To its detriment, the movie seethes with facile philosophy masquerading as depth, but I’m willing to overlook that in favor of its swerving story, marvelous acting, and the solid case of the creeps I get when I watch it.

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

>>> Dennis suggests allowing your children unsupervised access to your family photo albums. Oh, wait- you’re saying that young children have neither the motor skills nor sense of responsibility to handle delicate, important items without destroying them? Huh. I suppose you’ve got a point there. Now how could this fact relate to Videoport’s DVDs? I wonder…

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

>>>For Saturday, Dennis suggests ‘Mystery Science Theater 3000: Mitchell” (in Incredibly Strange). For those of you who don’t know (cough…squares…cough), Mystery Science Theater 3000 (or MST3k to the cool kids) was the creation of a bunch o’knuckleknobs from America’s heartland who, underemployed and weird, started a public access show at a Minnesota TV station wherein they utilized the station’s collection of crappy movies and a big pile of junk to craft a narrative in which an affable would-be inventor gets shot into space by some mad scientists and creates some wonky robot pals for company. The meanie scientists try to drive him insane by showing him ‘the worst movies ever made’, and the guy (Joel Hodgson at the time) and the ‘bots make with the wisecracks at the movies’ expense in order to stave of the resulting madness from watching old Gamera movies. Well, the thing caught on, the show was picked up by Comedy Central, and then the Sci Fi channel, Mike Nelson replaced Joel, but the premise remained the same: just make fun of really bad movies. I love this show. Before it was available on tape or DVD (Videoport’s got about a hundred episodes in the Incredibly Strange section) I actually sent a personal check for hundreds of dollars I couldn’t afford to some dude in Canada whose web site promised to dub some 50 episodes for me; (shockingly, he actually sent them to me and didn’t turn out to be a scammer, or a serial killer, so- score one for me). Anyway, the

Joel and the 'bots.

show is hilarious and weird, and no episode is more beloved than this one, which was also the show where sleepy-eyed goofball Joel gave way as host to slightly more acerbic goofball Mike (and don’t get the whole ‘Joel vs. Mike’ thing started, or we’ll be here all day). It’s an odd choice, having nothing to do with MST staples horror or sci fi, but this very 1970s, suspiciously-made-for-TV-looking cop flick is just a comedy goldmine. Beefy, thuggish ‘hero’ Mitchell is played by Joe Don Baker, and his pork-faced unappealing-ness is the subject of much of the humor. Highlights: ‘bot Tom Servo (the one that looks like a gumball machine) singing his own lyrics to the chase music (“Heart poundin’/ veins cloggin’/ Mitchell!), his impeccably-timed comment on seeing our hero engage in particularly childish wordplay with a little kid (“Tonight on Crossfire!), Joel’s horrified exclamation at spotting a particularly disturbing item on Mitchell’s nightstand (“BABY OIL!! NOOO!!”), and lots and lots of jokes about Mitchell’s constant need for food, beer, and unimaginably-baby-oiled sex with greasy hooker Linda Evans. Coupled with the episode-long story arc wherein loveable, cowlike robot Gypsy tries to come up with a way for Joel to escape his fate, followed by a hilarious, and surprisingly touching farewell scene between Joel and the ‘bots, and you’ve got yourself an all-time MST3k classic. Former Videoporter Stockman has demanded a Mitchell viewing party sometime soon and, well, you don’t say no to that woman, so I’ll be experiencing the wonder that is Mitchell real soon…

>>>For Sunday, Elsa S. Customer suggests House of the Devil (in Horror). It’s a real throwback. Eschewing the playful tongue-in-cheek metatext of recent years, House of the Devil channels the straight-up horror flicks of the 70s and 80s. Director Ti West gives us a classic scenario: a sweet, serious college student pulls babysitting duty in a big, isolated house. Oddly enough, there’s a little piece of movie alchemy here: House of the Devil pays loving tribute to those old-school films even as it surpasses them. The sets, the acting, and the dialogue are all encouragingly well-crafted, and it does without the cheap scares and sloppy effects of grindhouse films, instead using atmosphere and pacing to create a lingeringly slow building of tension. The period details are similarly effective and loving: the babysitter’s casually feathered hair, her clunky offbrand Walkman-wannabe, even the song she bops around to — all create a realistic portrait of a time, not a post-ironic pastiche of the past. The film has a quiet sense of humor that goes farther than the brash satire of Scream and its successors; aficionados will smile to see genre mavens Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov in prominent supporting roles, and the plot centers almost nostalgically around the now-debunked Satanic panics that flooded cheap media in the early 1980s. It’s only modestly spooky, but House of the Devil is both a deeply affectionate genre homage and a delicious building of anticipation… with a nasty little sting at the end.

New Releases this week at Videoport: From Paris with Love (no, not a sequel to 1 Night in Paris, this thriller features spies, terrorists, etc, etc, plus John Travolta continuing his late middle-age ‘shaved head, weird facial hair, hammy, unconvincing tough guy’ phase [see The Taking of Pelham 123]), Shutter Island (sure, such a blatant genre film might be a little beneath him, but Martin Scorcese has a ton of fun [you will too] with this 50s-set thriller starring his personal muse Leonardo DiCaprio; oh, and anyone wrecking the plot twists out loud in the store will be run out of Videoport so fast it’ll make their heads spin…NOT JOKING), ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’- season 7 (semi-loveable curmudgeon Larry David returns to a world of daily miseries only partly of his own doing), ‘Nip/Tuck’- the final season (so they’re plastic surgeons, but they solve crimes…or something…I’m out of the loop on this one…), Not the Messiah (Eric Idle continues to milk the Monty Python archives for all they’re worth- this time, it’s a musical version of the utterly-still-brilliant Life of Brian with songs and new jokes by Eric, and appearances from fellow Pythons Gilliam, Palin, and Jones [and ever-dishy Carol Cleaveland], although John Cleese, as ever, remains harumph-ily aloof), 180 South (conservationist/adventurer Jeff Johnson traces the footsteps of a pair of previous wanderers to the wilds of Patagonia [with some stops for surfing and a shipwreck along the way] in this documentary), Cornered (with an S&M serial killer mask cover similar to the shockingly-popular The Collector, this direct-to-DVD horror thriller can boast ‘the convenience store killer’, an misuse of the word ‘grizzly’ to describe that killer’s activities on the back cover [he’s not using a bear to kill people, is he? ’cause that would be pretty cool], and Steve Gutenberg!! Um, yay?), Mystery Team (scattershot, intermittently-hilarious comedy from Donald Glover and pals [internet sketch troupe Derrick Comedy] about a formerly-renowned team of boy detectives coping with encroaching adulthood, a meaner brand of mysteries, and actual murder!!).

New Arrivals this week at Videoport: ‘Peanuts- The 1970s Collection’ (find it in the Videoport kids section! Let’s enjoy this with our children whilst not letting them touch the discs!), ‘Daria’- The Complete Series (this well regarded MTV animated series about the only human being who could actually stand to hang out with Beavis and Butthead finally gets the DVD treatment), Power Kids (Thai martial arts movie about some improbably-kicky kids trying to get one of their pals a heart transplant and beat up some terrorists while they’re at it), Viva Cuba (sweet comedy/drama about a pair of kids whose families try to keep them apart because of their social and economic differences), Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story (documentary about the Republican political advisor/strategist who perfected the modern Republican strategy of slander, disinformation, cynical pandering, dividing and conquering, and appealing to the lowest humanly possible denominator; who, me, bitter? Nawww…I’m not glad he’s dead…).

New Arrivals on Blu-Ray this week at Videoport: War of the Worlds (2005), The Fly (1986), Pierrot Le Fou, From Paris with Love, Shutter Island.

Get all the skinny on Videoport on our Facebook page “Videoport Jones”!

Free money at Videoport! Videoport’s Savings Plans, kids- $20 buys you $25 worth of rental credit, while $30 buys you $40 worth! It’s free money. Just take it already…

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