Volume CCLIX- The Good Guys and the Bad Lieutenants
For the Week of 8/3/10
Videoport gives you a free movie rental every day. It’s what we do…
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.)
>>> Videoport Customer (and Videoporter-dater) Thomas suggests El Topo (in Incredibly Strange). Broadly speaking, the central narrative of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Western, of sorts, El Topo (The Mole, 1970) follows its protagonist’s transformation from a gunslinger into a priest dedicated to the liberation of a group of physically-impaired people who have been trapped underground by a town of bourgeois cultists. The movie is aggressively symbolic, and inflected by narrative tropes and imagery from Eastern and Western religion and philosophy. Its plot, which tenuously holds together a number of otherwise discordant scenes, proceeds on the basis of the vague, implicit logic you’d associate more with myths or fables than with modern realistic narratives. Normally, if someone described a movie to me along these lines I would be pretty skeptical that I could ever enjoy it; I liked it, however, for a few different reasons. One is that, even at its most violent and absurd—and it gets violent and absurd pretty frequently— it’s incredibly beautiful. Another is that Jodorowsky’s deployment of religious symbolism feels as intentionally hilarious and perverse as it does heavy-handed. or significant. Finally, even though the plot is not very engaging per se, the individual scenes are a pleasure to watch. There’s a scene of one of the film’s villains, an amorphous colonel, getting dressed and made up in his full military regalia that has got to be one of the best sequences I’ve ever seen in a movie. I imagine it’s hard to make a richly allegorical film that anyone is going to be able to watch or take seriously; it’s a representational form that’s been on the losing end of Western history- and story-writing for a while now. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this entire movie. At the risk of sounding grandiose, I would say that El Topo feels like the product of an alternate history of story-writing; at the very least, I’d describe it as a gesture towards a trajectory that narrative could have taken in film, if not in fiction general.
Tough and Triassic Tuesday. (Get one free rental from the Action or Classics sections with your paid rental.)
>>> Videoport Customer Mark Magee suggests The Longest Day (in Classics). This classic is the definitive film about D-Day. Although Saving Private Ryan is more realistic in showing the carnage, The Longest Day gives a bigger picture of the events that happened on that historic day. Beautifully filmed in black and white and starring an all-star cast, the film expertly tells the very complicated story of that day in a fast-paced and engrossing way. Filled with poignant vignettes and exciting action, the film is never boring despite it’s almost 3 hour length. Some of the (pre-CGI) long, single shot action scenes are amazing as are the literally cast of thousands. The Longest Day is a great glimpse of what June 6, ’44 must have been like and underlines what a tremendous achievement it actually was. A must see more than once.
Wacky and Worldly Wednesday. (Get one free rental from the Comedy or Foreign Language sections with your paid rental.)
>>> Elsa S. Customer suggests ‘The Office’, Season Five (in Comedy). I recommend all of season five, but especially discs 4 & 5… because this is when Charles Miner (Idris Elba)* shows up. Those episodes subtly altered my understanding of the show and showed me irrefutably what a madhouse Dunder Mifflin really is. Throughout the series, the madness has been spreading. In season 1, Michael Scott (Steve Carell) seems to be an aberration, a lone fool placed unwisely in a position of modest authority. All too soon, we see his immediate superior Jan Levinson (Melora Hardin) dissolve from a polished, successful businesswoman into an addled mess. By season 4, I thought the show was starting to push this workplace dysfunction beyond my ability to suspend disbelief. But then they introduced Elba as Charles Miner, VP of Northeast Sales. He’s the rare Sane Observer thrown into the mix of crazies, and his perspective refreshes the show and shows us just how deep the crazy runs. Charles is the consummate professional: brisk, knowledgeable, crisply demanding, and utterly unwavering… and his quiet reactions say a mouthful. Even good ole Jim (John Krasinski) comes off as a frivolous bumpkin in Charles’ eyes. It’s a reality check for longtime watchers. More striking still is how Charles’ body language changes in the presence of CFO David Wallace (Andy Buckley). On his own, Charles uses very confident body language: he stands ramrod straight, he makes direct eye contact, he doesn’t waver or falter. When Wallace shows up, Miner mirrors his posture and gestures: he shrugs and slumps, smiles and squints, and generally softens his presence and makes himself smaller… just as his boss does. It made me realize how David Wallace’s character is the backbone — or lack of backbone — of the whole corporation. He’s likeable and pleasant, but he’s also soft, timid, and anxious to avoid even the most necessary of confrontations. It’s this failure to confront and correct disastrously bad behavior that encourages the breakdown to spread throughout the whole of Dunder Mifflin. The fish rots from the head down.
*Editor’s note: Elba, of course, is none other than ‘The Wire”s Stringer Bell and as charismatic, dangerous, and lethal as Stringer Bell is, watch the scene where he’s advancing on the recently-resigned Michael…I don’t think I’ve ever been more scared watching a sitcom.
Thrifty Thursday. (Get one free movie from any section with your paid rental.)
>>> Regan suggests a VHS double feature of Dogs in Space and Brewster McCloud (both in Feature Drama). To prepare for my trip to Hupper’s Island, I needed to get a growler of beer, some moist towelettes, and some good old VHS. We started out watching Dogs in Space, not to be confused with PIGS-IN-SPACE. I was a little busy making engy-muff pizzas while watching but that did not detract from this flick which may not have a linear storyline anyway. Forst you have Michael
‘double clutch’ Hutchence from the rock group INXS! And get this! He’s in a band! But forget him, ’cause the synthesizer guy played by Nique Needles is way awesomer. And then- Brewster McCloud. With detective Shaft- Frank Shaft that is. He has many turtleneck sweaters with matchy gun holsters. And Buuujd Cort’s sexy self. Yeah. I said it. He does pull-ups. Lots of pull-ups. And then people get birdcrapped on and die. And Shelley Duvall is fantastic with her stolen car and eyelashes. Oh, and Sally Kellerman’s coat is fierce! Thank you Robert Altman for continuing to entertain me years after your death. F-You Avatar, I’ma gonna get my flat VHS on! Suck it!
Free Kids Friday. (Get one free rental from the Children’s or Family sections, no other rental necessary).
>>> Dennis suggests that teaching your kids proper DVD handling now will keep you from having to try and bail your kid out from the Turkish prison he was thrown in for trying to smuggle hashish out of the country. I swear to you, that will happen…
Having a Wild Weekend. (Rent two, get your third movie for free from any section on Saturday and Sunday.)
>>>For Saturday, Andy suggests Hardcore (in Feature Drama). So many movies that Paul Schrader wrote and/or directed follow the Taxi Driver formula that I shouldn’t be surprised when they climax with bullets flying and bodies dropping. And yet in Hardcore, I thought the main character was a bit too smart, too calculating, and too goshdarn wholesome to get involved in any violent situations. But, as played by George C. Scott, conservative Midwestern businessman Jake VanDorn proves to have quite a temper…after his daughter is abducted by dirty, non-believing porn-industry types! Over the course of the movie, VanDorn figures out that: 1. Private detectives will rip you off if they think you’re a square. 2. Porn industry types won’t give you any information if you look like a square. And 3. Sometimes you gotta get violent if you’re gonna find your daughter. Sometimes, with Paul Schrader movies, it feels like he has to shoehorn his stories into his formula. Without giving away too much, I felt like Schrader was trying to give Hardcore a Chinatown kind of ending. It doesn’t quite work (but it sure is violent.) But for everything in the movie that doesn’t work, there’s a well-written scene or a good performance (from Scott, Peter Boyle, Dick Sargent, and Season Hubley) to make up for it.
>>>For Sunday, Dennis suggests ‘Dinner for Five’ (in Feature Drama, for some reason). Jon Favreau’s got a pretty sweet life. Acclaimed director (Iron Man, Elf, Made), writer (Swingers), actor (those, plus lots of others), and all-around cool guy (he even got paid to make out with Famke Janssen in Love & Sex.) And, just to seal his coolness deal, he also hosted this IFC series where he and some of his Hollywood friends spend an evening at some of New York and California’s best restaurants, drinking and eating and smoking cigars and just shooting the sh*t. And, since Favreau’s pals include the likes of Vince Vaughn, Peter Falk, Rod Steiger, the lovely Ms. Jannsen, David Cross, Kevin Pollack, Adam Goldberg, Seth Green, Fred Willard, Sarah Silverman and lots more, the
aforementioned sh*t-shooting is, by turns, funny, insightful, poignant, and all-around fascinating to those of us hungry to see our favorite actors just chatting and getting buzzed in a comfortable setting. Some highlights include: David Cross (easily the funniest appearance in the first season) doing bits and teasing tablemate Denis Leary while Sarah Silverman joshes around with Steiger, who, quite clearly half-gone on, well something, continuously misses the point to humorous effect, or the ongoing ‘kidding-on-the-square’ battle between Vaughn and Peter Falk, with Falk accusing Vince of being ‘a hog’ in their scenes together in Made. Even Kevin James comes across as someone you’d want to have a meal with. And while I’d maybe skip the one where Marilyn Manson and Andy Dick take turns trying to show Daryl Hannah how ‘outrageous’ they can be, each episode is a funny, dishy, deliciously-inside experience, with the avuncular Favreau holding court, asking questions, and clearly enjoying having thought of such a sweet gig.
New Releases this week at Videoport: Kick-Ass (it’s the hyper-violent alternative cimc book movie all the cool kids have been waiting for; an average kid with no superpowers to speak of decides to become a costumed vigilante and, well, kick some ass I would assume; with Nicholas Cage [who Videoport’s JackieO says, “makes up for Ghost Rider“] as the single dad turning his prepubescent daughter into a much more effective and deadly ass-kicker), Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Steve Zahn stars in this adaptation of a significantly less violent and ass-kicky comic, following the adventures of the titular little guy), The Ghost Writer (Ewan McGregor and Pierce Brosnan star in this really quite interesting political thriller which is destined to be ignored in favor of shrill, pointless pontificating around it since it was directed by Roman Polanski), After.Life (Liam Nesson and Christina Ricci star in this absurdly-punctuated thriller about a young woman who’s ‘mostly dead’ status is in the hands of a sinister undertaker who may be good, or, you know, bad…), A
Prophet (probably the best film out this week, this French film details the trials of a young Arab man sent to prison as he tries to use his head and turn the prisoners’ factionalism against them, keep himself safe, and emerge, somehow, alive), SNL: The Best of Will Ferrell, Volume 3 (what do you want, the guy’s funny…), The Living Wake (young up-and-comer Jesse Eisenberg [Zombieland, Adventureland] stars in this indie drama about a would-be writer’s plans to hold the titular pre-death party), ‘Max Headroom’- the complete series (before he became a ubiquitous product huckster, the decidedly odd, stuttering computer generated talking head starred in this eponymous sci fi series about an investigative TV reporter transformed into the weirdest thing American TV had seen before), To Save a Life (a young man obsesses over the death of his friend and, as this is a ‘Christian’ film, undoubtedly gets a hand up from that guy, what’s his name? Oh, right, God!), Happiness Runs (indie drama about a teenager who rebels against his commune upbringing at the hands of hippie parents and tries to save the girl of his dreams from the cult life at the hands of the reliably-dastardly Rutger Hauer), Operation: Endgame (check out the cast of this direct-to-DVD spy comedy: Zach Galifianakis, Rob Corddry, Adam Scott, Ellen Barkin, Ving Rhames, Jeffrey Tambor, Bob Odenkirk. Man. And the AV Club gave it a rare ‘F’ grade online. Man. I’m gonna have to watch it just to see how this cast could have gone so wrong…), ‘Heroes’- season 4 (if anyone still cares…).
New Arrivals this week at Videoport: The Dungeon Masters (this documentary about three Dungeons and Dragons enthusiasts who have lost all perspective and started living their obsession has, shockingly, been attacked online as mean-spirited and stereotypical by rabid Dungeons and Dragons fans; a sample: “As if the exploitation of its subjects weren’t bad enough, The Dungeon Masters simply gets information wrong. It conflates the various editions of Dungeons & Dragons, showing second edition artwork, rules, or even different games entirely when the subjects talk about their D&D sessions. It portrays LARPs as a fantasy-based chaotic brawl, which is an unfair generalization. And because it minimizes the differences between rules sets, gaming styles that were shaped by a Gygaxian tradition of “DM vs. players” from Second Edition D&D are glossed over – Meeks’ DMing style actually makes more sense when viewed in that light.” Nope, no loss of perspective there…), Cum to Live (yes, I just typed those words; no, it is not a porn movie; instead, this is a low-budget French comedy of weirdness about a young couple stranded in a cabin, lacking a condom, and, well, there’s a guy with a gun on the cover…I honestly think someone should rent this and write a review so we can all find out what the deal is…), Every Which Way But Loose/Any Which Way You Can (Clint Eastwood bare-knuckle fighting! And his best friend’s an orangutan!
Ruth Gordon fights a biker gang! The monkey likes to poop in cop cars! There are two of these, all on the same disc! You’re welcome! [Oh, and it also comes with Eastwood’s Honkytonk Man, in which he stars with his real life kid and sings. Please don’t let that fact prevent you from renting the awesome monkey movies…]), The Mark of Zorro (Tyrone Power stars as the Mexican Robin Hood in this 1940 swashbuckler; geek trivia- this is the film that the young Bruce Wayne had just seen with his parents right before they were murdered! I’m a geek!), Shirley Temple Triple Feature! (check the kids section for the little shnookums’ films Little Miss Marker, Now and Forever and The Runt Page, all for the price of one kids rental; that’s one dollar, by the way…), Entre Nos (a single mother and her kids sneak into America from Colombia to reunite with her husband, only to watch him abandon them in this indie drama which asserts the utterly un-Arizonan concept that illegal immigrants are human beings with feelings and stuff), Yo Gabba Gabba: Clubhouse (on a related note, Yo Gabba Gabba musical guest Biz Markee is headlining the KahBang Music and Film Festival in Bangor this week!), A Blade in the Dark (attention fans of overrated ‘Italian Masters of Horror’! Videoport adds this Lamberto Bava slasher thriller to the Horror section!).
New Arrivals on Blu-Ray this week at Videoport: Duplicity, Kick-Ass, A Prophet, The Unborn, Taking Woodstock, Bruno, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Dr. Strangelove.
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