Volume CCLXI- Don’t Tell Mom the Bad Lieutenant’s Dead
For the Week of 8/17/10
Videoport has the best selection of movies anywhere, and we give you one of them for free every single day. If that’s wrong somehow, we don’t want to be right…
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 ‘Twin Peaks’ up to a certain point (in Mystery/Thriller.) SPOILER-Y!!!!!! Re-watching Twin Peaks, the entire series. Here’s some advice: stop watching after about episode 18. Famously, creator David Lynch pretty much bailed on the show when it was picked up for a second season against his wishes and, while one might expect the series to take some time to find itself after the initial mystery is (sort of) resolved, I don’t think anyone could have anticipated the unprecedented quality plummet that resulted. The show goes so dramatically off the rails at around that point that it just makes me sad inside. The two old brothers and the teenaged bride? Ms. Twin Peaks? James (boring) getting seduced by the blonde (boring) lady? The whole Lucy/Andy/Dick triangle? Bobby and Shelley taking care of brain-damaged Leo at home? Ben Horne’s Civil War obsession? The whole
Nadine goes to high school debacle…. oy vey. Sure, the finale was relatively cool (because Lynch deigned to drop back on by after abandoning the series to lesser hands), but the whole last third of this series will make you wish you’d never seen it. The absolute nadir is the episode directed by Diane Keaton (season 2, episode 15) which is so ineptly written and tonally-off kilter that it plays like a parody of ‘Twin Peaks’ designed by a ‘Twin Peaks’ hater…to destroy ‘Twin Peaks.’ It worked. Even Cooper starts to get kind of dull for a while. Sheesh.
Tough and Triassic Tuesday. (Get one free rental from the Action or Classics sections with your paid rental.)
>>> Videoport Customer Mark Magee suggests The Last Action Hero (in Action…duh.) I really thought this film got a bum rap — horrid reviews and dismal box office. I think partly because it opened the same week as Jurassic Park…a hard film to compete with. I don’t think many people knew how to take this film…it’s a weird blend of spoof, action and fantasy…with a lot of 4th wall breaking thrown in. Arnold does a great job making fun of himself and the movies that made him a star. The film is full of film-buff inside jokes and has an odd assortment of cameos; some that many people would probably not recognize (Joan Plowright as an English teacher who shows a clip of Hamlet starring her late husband, Laurence Olivier is one example), others that seem out of place (Tina Turner as the mayor of LA..?) and others that are very enjoyable (Ian McKellan, Anthony Quinn and Art Carney). Charles Dance is very good as an evil henchman with various, stylish glass eyes. The one drawback for me was the ‘kid’…I found the young actor to be very annoying at times; not exactly a natural actor. The action and direction are great and I really liked the “we’re making fun of ourselves” humor. Definitely worth a look and a larger audience.
Wacky and Worldly Wednesday. (Get one free rental from the Comedy or Foreign Language sections with your paid rental.)
>>> Videoport customer Mark Magee suggests Mother, Jugs & Speed (in Comedy.) One of those great adult comedies from the 70s that they just don’t know how to make anymore. There is a
difference between irreverent and tasteless and it seems tasteless is the norm nowadays in adult or mature comedies. MJ&S is the definition of irreverent — full of the offensive yet very funny material that is considered ‘politically incorrect’ today. The film centers around a down and out private ambulance service trying to compete with another more by the book service. It stars probably the oddest movie trio, Bill Cosby, Raquel Welch and Harvey Keitel, but they have great chemistry together. Cosby is hilarious and it’s nice to see him outside of his squeaky clean image. The supporting cast is very funny also, especially Larry Hagman’s sleazy Murdoch. MJ&S is laugh out loud funny at times but also has it’s share of violent and dramatic moments. Like another gem from ’76, Car Wash, MJ&S is smartly written and a great reflection of its times.
Thrifty Thursday. (Get one free movie from any section with your paid rental.)
>>> Sam and JackieO recommend The Laughing Policeman (in Mystery/Thriller.) (Here’s a transcript of their in-movie texting):
(Jackie) We’re watching The Laughing Policeman per your recommendation. I want Louis Gossett, Jr.’s clothes. So far, no one in the movie has laughed.
(Sam) Yeah, right?!? Also, the COOLEST male pattern bald haircut of all time!
(Jackie) Yes! It makes me wish I were losing my hair. Bruce Dern is such a creep in this.
(Sam) I was never impressed by him until this.
(Jackie) I think if Altman had made a gritty 70’s cop movie, it would have been this.
(Sam) Exactly. Nice one.
(Jackie) I just looked up the original tagline: “This movie is so real, it makes every other movie in this town look like a movie.”
(Sam) Is that true?
(Sam) Either way, that’s amazing.
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 prevent your later having to watch them get tangled up in a web of erotic intrigue with an icy, beautiful blonde crime novelist who may, or may not, be a brutal icepick murderess. I’m serious- that could happen!
Having a Wild Weekend. (Rent two, get your third movie for free from any section on Saturday and Sunday.)
>>>For Saturday, Dennis suggests The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra (in Incredibly Strange.) Parody is a hard thing to do well. Just look at Mel Brooks’ career; he started off like gangbusters, with Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein (parodying westerns and, well, Frankenstein respectively) and then gradually, but very precipitously, lost his way with each successive spoof (Spaceballs [inexplicably
overrated Star Wars parody], Robin Hood: Men in Tights, and Dracula: Dead and Loving It) becoming more and more obvious, braying, and unbearable. And don’t get me started on the dumb-as-a-brick Scary Movie franchise or the Wayans family, or those complete abominations to comedy and the human race Aaron Seltzer and Jason Friedberg (Date Movie, Epic Movie, Disaster Movie, Meet the Spartans, the upcoming Vampires Suck) whom I will personally cross-body tackle if I ever meet them in person. (Let me just lay this out for aspiring parody writers: simply making a reference to the existence of something from another movie in your movie does not constitute a joke. A ‘joke’ actually
requires a little more than saying, ‘remember that thing that was in that movie that time, well here’s something that looks like that saying something stupid! Laugh!’ Insufferable.) Anyway, The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra director Larry Blamire has his own unique, and highly effective, method of film parody. This 50’s sci fi spoof (and its sequel The Lost Skeleton Returns Again, coming out this week at Videoport!*) takes the form of a straight-faced recreation of the no-budget, painfully-earnest, and touchingly-incompetent sci fi films of the late 50s/early 60s, with the genre’s underlying absurdities and weaknesses tweaked just a hair to the left, so that the film affectionately highlights the originals’ borderline incompetence but doesn’t underline it by winking at the audience. It’s a very, very delicate balance for comedy, and it works a satisfying amount of the time. So you get a stolid scientist searching for the titular artifact and explaining his devotion to science to his dim blonde wife by using the word ‘science’ approximately ten times in the same speech. And you get a nice alien couple trying to recapture the bad alien that somehow escaped from their tiny, model-looking spaceship whose names are Kro-bar and Lattis. And you get the skull itself which is evil and likes to make stentorian pronouncements of how evil it is, followed, always, by booming evil guy laughter. There are cheap sets, and inexplicable continuity problems, and rickety special effects, and its all done with such care and such obvious affection for the films it’s teasing that the whole experience becomes one, long giggle fit.
-Editor’s note: And don’t miss the next Fun Box night at Geno’s on August 23rd! It’s a full-audience-participation screening of utterly bananas ‘worst movie of all time’ contender The Room!
>>>For Sunday, Elsa S. Customer suggests Shutter Island (in Mystery/Thriller.) Shutter Island just might be the best B-movie I’ve ever seen. It’s a potboiler, a pulp tale. That’s not a slam at Scorsese’s film. On the contrary, I suspect that’s exactly what he was aiming at with this lurid, overblown 1950s-set psychological thriller, and he manages to make it both wryly genre-savvy and completely thrilling — even to someone who knows its secrets.
[The first half of this review is spoiler-free. I’ve placed a bolded note where spoilers begin below.] The film opens with Federal Marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his new partner (Mark Ruffalo) en route to Shutter Island, an isolated island asylum for the criminally insane, to investigate the seemingly impossible disappearance of a female patient. Head psychiatrist Dr. Cawley (Sir Ben Kingsley) treats the scowling agents to a lecture on his philosophy of compassionate, comforting treatment for even the most dangerous patients. His claims of compassion notwithstanding, Dr. Cawley is an oddly ambiguous, potentially sinister character, with his big knowing eyes and his capriciously high-handed treatment of the marshals. We know almost immediately that Daniels carries dreadful memories with him to the island: Teddy brusquely tells his new partner that his wife died in an apartment fire. As the film progresses, we learn, too, that Daniels, a WWII veteran, was a liberator of Dachau, and images from the camp haunt his sleep. Some negative reviews have focused on the plotline, which seems to me to be missing the point. The beauty of Shutter Island is the storytelling, not the story. The almost perfunctory twists and turns of the plot are thrown into deep shadow by the long, lavish, genre-loving narrative process. The very first exterior shot — the green-screen shot of Teddy and Chuck on the ferry with endless ocean in the background — establishes this film as a homage to the suspense tales of yesteryear. It’s a more technologically advanced version of the jumping, jarring backdrops Hitchcock used in his driving scenes — almost naturalistic, but not quite. Throughout the film, Scorsese pays homage to sources higher and lower than Hitch, making Shutter Island a chaotic pastiche of influences, including classic psychiatric thrillers Spellbound and Vertigo, psychiatric melodramas like The Snake Pit, Cold War paranoia ranging from The Manchurian Candidate to Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and the rich tradition of modern horror from Samuel Fuller to David Lynch. And “chaotic” is the word to take to heart here. Scorsese masterfully builds up a fractured, fragmented narrative, filling it with blinking inconsistencies that vanish before we can consciously view them. The whole film seethes with chaos and turmoil: an almost parodically craggy landscape, a storm that builds to a devastating climax, great wafts of smoke, the varied and vivid torments of the island’s inmates, lighting that goes waaaay past contrast and into chiarascuro, and a towering soundscape of a score. When bright clear calm finally does descend over the island, it’s anything but comforting. From this point on, you’ll find [SPOILERS]: It’s easy to denigrate the twists and turns of Shutter Island, but again I say: that’s missing the point. The main “twist” doesn’t really deserve that name; it’s an obvious possibility in the trailer, is hinted at during the approach to the hospital, and is hammered home in the first meeting between Daniels and Dr. Cawley. Any critic who is thoroughly surprised at the two-hour mark was not paying attention to the first twenty minutes. But it’s delicious how the film plays with this supposed twist. As Kubrick subtly wove spatial distortions and temporal jumps into The Shining to give us a sense of a world out of whack, Scorsese fills the isolated world of Shutter Island with tiny mundane details that change in a blink, playing havoc with our perceptions of the concrete world. The stylized cuts, routinely and intentionally
creating blips in the continuity, contribute to this sense of disjointed reality. Rather than an unreliable narrator, we are presented with an entire unreliable narrative. For once, I feel like Scorsese has used DiCaprio to good effect. His perpetually confused babyface seems wildly unsuited to the role of the hardbitten noir anti-hero; he’s more like a lost boy dressing up to ward off the horrors of his haunted memory. Both Videoport Jones and I remarked upon Mark Ruffalo’s understated performance. Though good ole Chuck doesn’t have much to do in the early stages of the film, Ruffalo melts effortlessly into that 1950′s persona, coming off like a modern-day William Powell; later in the film, he expands a bit. Throughout the film, Ruffalo does so much with so little. (In the scene with the two marshals sitting on the steps, the gentle sorrow playing across his brow says more than a paragraph of exposition.) It’s not going to rank among the great films of history, but Shutter Island is more than just a ripping yarn, more than just a fun potboiler. It’s a skillful and richly rendered homage to genre films from a director with a master’s eye, a generous hand, and a loving memory.
New Releases this week at Videoport: The Lost Skeleton Returns Again (this sci fi spoof sequel to The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra is, as those of us who went to its Maine premiere at Fun Box Monster Emporium night at Geno’s last month can attest, affectionately hilarious and utterly bananas), ‘Dexter’- season 4 (everybody’s favorite serial killer-killing serial killer is back! We love murder!), ‘Friday Night Lights’- season 4 (everybody loves this Texas-set, not-really-about-football series, and yet no one watches it on TV and it’s always on the verge of being canceled; well, their loss is Videoport’s gain- rent away!), The Last Song (Miley Ray Cyrus…and I can stop there, as those who now really want to see this and those who will never, ever see this have all the information they need), Temple Grandin (Claire Danes stars in this HBO biopic about the eponymous woman who, despite being severely autistic, went on to earn a doctorate, publish books, and pioneer the humane treatment of livestock; seriously, everybody loved this one), ‘Ugly Betty’- season 4 (the final season of the transplanted telenovela about the titular lass trying to make her way in the world of pretty people),
Furry Vengeance (Brendan Fraser is attacked by animals out to protect the environment in this comedy; look, I can’t defend the big lug’s career choices, either, but I persist in liking Fraser, even if the title of this one [and the cover image where he’s apparently being mounted by a huge bear] suggests a fetish website), ‘Cougar Town’- season 1 (Courtney Cox has a hit with this ribald comedy about a 40-something woman and the having of all the sex with the younger guys; also starring ‘Freaks & Geeks’‘s Busy Philipps!), The City of Your Final Destination (Anthony Hopkins and Laura Linney star in this literary drama about a young biographer trying to get the relatives ofa deceased writer to open up to him), Cemetery Junction (‘The Office’ and ‘Extras’ creators Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant wrote and directed this change-of-pace coming-of-age comedy about young guys in 1970’s Reading, England trying to escape their seemingly-inescapable drab destinies; looks promising, and I’ll follow Gervais and Merchant anywhere), Skellig the Owl Man (Tim Roth is an angel in this fantasy about a kid who finds him hiding in the tool shed; a scruffy, Cockney, vaguely unsettling angel, but still…), ‘Project Runway’- season 7 (the cutthroat, high powered, slightly-bitchy world of fashion design swatches on!).
New Arrivals this week at Videoport: Black Orpheus (one of the first ever releases from the Criterion Collection, this Brazilian classic gets an even more deluxe treatment in this re-release from Criterion), Orlando (Tilda Swinton first came to most people’s attention in this 1992 Virginia Woolf adaptation about a bewitchingly-androgynous, seemingly-immortal, gender-switching courtier; mmmm…Tilda Swinton…), ‘Clatterford’- season 2 (the charming-est ladies in the charming-est ladies club in all of England keeps on with the charm in this series you can find in the British Comedy section), ‘Casshern Sins’ (it’s a new anime series! There’s robots, and big eyed girlwomen, and, um, pokemon? Hell, I don’t know…), Frontline: The Undertaking (documentary about an undertaker; hence the clever, punny title), The Bear (the classic, gorgeously-photographed film about the titular cub’s adventures finally comes to DVD), Thunderheart (remember when Val Kilmer had that, whatdyacallit? Career? This detective story, about a half-Native American FBI man sent to investigate goings-on at an Indian reservation, seemed to indicate that he’d still have one at this point), The Busy World of Richard Scary (you know- for kids!).
New Arrivals on Blu-Ray this week at Videoport: Traitor, Domino, We Own the Night, ‘Dexter’- season 4, The City of Your Final Destination, The Warlords, The Patriot.