VideoReport #291

Volume CCXCI- The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Mothra

For the Week of 3/15/11

Videoport has all the best movies in the world. Come, let us share them with you…at very reasonable prices.

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 Eyewitness (in Mystery/Thriller.) This early-80’s thriller is pretty much just waiting for you to discover it. Check out the cast (all before their respective famousnesses to some degree): Sigourney Weaver, William Hurt, Morgan Freeman, James Woods, Kenneth McMillan, Steven Hill, Christopher Plummer, Irene Worth, Pamela Reed. All working in service of a quite serviceable plot concerning a smart but seriously-underemployed janitor (Hurt) who comes across the aftermath of a murder in the corporate highrise where he works and decides to pretend he knows more than he does in order to impress the TV reporter Weaver) he’s got a crush on. Of course, in going public with his supposed information, he makes himself a target, both of the cops (Freeman and Hill) and the actual murderers (I’m not telling, because, as ever, people who spoil movie secrets are Satan’s handmaidens.) It’s a great setup, made all the better by the absurdly-overqualified cast. I especially like the chemistry between Hurt and Weaver who form a realistically-tentative due at the center of all the intrigue (Hurt was always really good at inhabiting suspiciously-charismatic figures.) Also, Yates (Bullitt, Breaking Away) was still able, at this point, to pull off some decent action and suspense sequences. If you’re looking for a sleeper thriller that, really, no one has ever seen, well, Videoport’s got you covered once again.

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

>>> Elsa S. Customer suggests Singin’ in the Rain (in Musicals.) Why do the great stars make movies? Just ask Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen), the empty-headed diva of the silent screen. “If we bring a little joy into your humdrum lives, it makes us feel as though our hard work ain’t been in vain for nothin’.”

Wacky and Worldly Wednesday. (Get one free rental from the Comedy or Foreign Language sections with your paid rental…OR…get 4 movies for 7 days for 7 bucks!)

>>> Dennis suggests you take a chance on the Criterion Collection! People often ask, “What is the Criterion Collection?” And, “Why does the Criterion Collection get its own section anyway?” And, “Who does this Criterion guy think he is anyway?” Well, the Criterion Collection is a shadowy cabal of film nerds who go together about 15 years ago and started buying up the rights to distribute movies. Which is what distribution companies do, of course, but the Criterion gang has exhibited such consistently-remarkable taste in the movies they’ve chosen to champion that they’ve become the movie geek’s Platonic ideal of a movie company. So, essentially, that kitty-cornered bank of shelves behind the TV at Videoport is where all the serious film fans flock when they’re looking for the best of the best of world cinema, all lovingly-restored, handsomely-presented, and packed with enough extras to constitute several additional free rentals. And don’t be afraid that “Criterion”=”pretentious and snooty” either; one of the things that has set the CC apart from the start is their appreciation of the unusual, the experimental, and often the downright weird. Alongside their favorite ‘classic’ directors (like Kurosawa, Bergman, Bunuel, Hitchcock), you’ll find cult favorites like Videodrome, Eyes Without a Face, Dead Ringers, Fiend Without a Face, Equinox, Schizopolis, experimental films by Stan Brakhage, The Honeymoon Killers, a whole raft of films by director Sam Fuller, and on and on. Plus, The Rock, Armageddon, and Robocop, leading me to believe that a.) the CC sees them as the pinnacle of a certain kind of blockbuster film that only Hollywood can do on such a scale, and/or b.) they have a sense of humor. So here’s your assignment for this Wednesday (when, like the special says you can get four movies for seven days for seven bucks): go to the Criterion Collection, close your eyes, and pick out four random movies. In doing so you might find yourself with a collection including an Aki Kaurismaki Finnish deadpan comedy (say, Ariel), a Douglas Sirk 50’s melodrama (All That Heaven Allows, maybe), a lesser-known samurai flick (like Kill!), and, I dunno, perhaps something utterly bananas like Dusan Makavejev’s Sweet Movie, which will melt your brain. Then you’ve got a week to watch them all, check out al their special features and commentaries, read the oft-included informative booklet, and, if you indeed watched Sweet Movie, set up some system of counseling. All in time to come back in next Wednesday and play Criterion Collection roulette all over again. (Maybe next week, it’ll be In the Mood for Love, Le Cercle Rouge, Tokyo Story, and That Obscure Object of Desire. Or maybe Coup de Torchon, Pickup on South Street, Night and the City, and The Night Porter. Or how about…)

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

>>> Dennis suggests ‘Jeeves and Wooster’ (in British Comedy.) You know how, when you see a movie or TV series version of a literary source you love, you are inevitably disappointed, not to say offended, peeved, and disillusioned? Well, that most definitely will not happen when you watch this stellar BBC adaptation of the P.G. Wodehouse stories about the peerlessly-privileged and even-more-peerlessly-dippy upper class bachelor Bertie Wooster and his near-preternaturally competent manservant Jeeves, among whose specialties numbers the facility with which he bails his employer out of an unending series of increasingly-absurd predicaments. If you’ve ever read the stories, you love them, unreservedly. That’s a given. And, against all odds, you’re going to love these TV adaptations as much or, dare I say, more. That’s because Wooster is played by Hugh Laurie (you may know him as the star of ‘House’) and the inimitable Jeeves is embodied by Stephen Fry (you may know him from being awesome in every way.) These two chaps, apart from being lifelong friends, accomplished novelists, film stars, and all-around brilliant human beings, inhabit these timeless characters in such a way that even a fan of the stories (which I unreservedly am) will settle in comfortably and confidently the minute the two of them deliver their initial lines. Sure, once they diverge from the initial Wodehouse texts, the series gets a little too broad (the American sojourn is the chief culprit), but these are minor quibbles. Fry and Laurie create two of the all-time classic television characters based on two of the all-time classic literary characters with grace and aplomb, and, if I can’t read the stories again without hearing their readings of the lines, well, I have absolutely no complaints whatsoever.

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

>>> Dennis suggests the following list of movies that kids will like and that won’t drive their parents absolutely insane with squeaky voices, shrill songs, and general cacophony: A Bug’s Life, My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service, The Incredibles, Antz, Monster’s Inc., Cars, the ‘Justice League’ TV series, the ‘Avatar’ TV series, ‘Batman- The Animated Series’, Old Yeller, The Adventures of Robin Hood (the Errol Flynn one), The Thief of Baghdad, The first two Christopher Reeve Superman movies, and avoid anything with hyperactive Australian men playing instruments. You’ll be fine.

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

>>>For Saturday, Dennis suggests Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (in Incredibly Strange.) I should hate this movie. The sort of hip, flip, post-modern (yet commercial) post-Pulp Fiction ironic action thriller, of which there were about a thousand in the 90’s, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang should irritate me as much as did the likes of Two Days in the Valley, Love and a .45, Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead,

"And that's why we'll both be big stars in six years...right, Bob? Bob..?"

Thursday or others. The fact that I actually love this movie may be due to it coming along relatively recently, after the initial flood of sub-Tarantino dialogue and winking violence had abated, or, more likely, it’s just that it stars Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer doing some of the best work of their careers. Downey plays Harry, a rapidly-aging small-time New York thief who, fleeing a botched robbery, stumbles into a film casting session and a ticket to the Coast for a screen test. There, he meets Kilmer as Perry, known as Gay Perry, the hard-nosed private investigator employed by the film studio to teach Harry the ropes in preparation for his potential private eye role. Harry’s fast-talking con artist and Gay Perry’s knowing tough guy match up in their quick wit and ability to see through LA’s phoniness, but, in good buddy movie tradition, annoy the bejeezus out of each other, especially when Harry, tagging along on one of Perry’s cases in research mode, screws some things up, especially when they witness a murder. Along the way, there’s Harry’s childhood crush (the ever-capable Michelle Monaghan), a nimbly-cribbed Chandler-esque plot, and Harry’s self-referential, winkingly-ironic narration which, again, should be too-cute-for-its-own-good (and sorta is), but is made to work because, well, it’s Downey. For some time now (this was back in 2005), the always-talented Downey has transformed himself into one of the most reliably-entertaining stars anywhere; here, Iron Man 1&2, Sherlock Holmes, even the mediocre Due Date– all are brought to life riding on his snarky, quick-witted, yet-soulful back. And in KKBB, some of the best moments come when his seemingly-glib character runs up against something real, and allows his inner decency to show. (SPOLIER: look at the scene where, hiding under a bed, he’s helpless to prevent a woman’s murder. Once he gets the upper hand, and the thug starts his tough-guy taunting, Harry cuts the thug off with a gunshot, while looking sadly, angrily at the young woman on the floor, and not at the thug. It’s a move I’d never seen before, and it works so well because Downey sells it so well.) And as for Kilmer, I know he’s become something of a cautionary, direct-to-DVD example of late, but I’ve always liked him, and this 2005 movie is the last time he seemed really engaged. It’s also the last time (until last year’s MacGruber) where he remembered to bring his sense of humor along. Gay Perry is maybe Kilmer’s best role to date; smart, slyly funny, and legitimately tough and even moving at times. If you’re looking for a, dare I say it, ‘Tarantino-esque’ dark comic thriller that won’t make you want to throw things, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is the way to go.

>>>For Sunday, Dennis suggests, in preparation for viewing (and you will want to view it) this week’s The Fighter, you raid Sam’s Boxing Movie shelf (in the Staff Picks section in the Middle Aisle.) Sure, boxing’s barbaric, crooked, and, well, ouchy, but it can make for some great drama. Some of my favorites (all in one handy location thanks to Sam):

1. When We Were Kings. There have only been two times when I’ve been in a theater and the audience spontaneously ripped up in applause. (The other was Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, after the first fight scene.) This documentary about the legendary Muhammed Ali/George Foreman “Rumble in the Jungle” fight is as stirring, and well-constructed, as any fictional narrative, offering a fascinating look at the fight itself, and Ali, who was, and remains, one of the most charismatic and intriguing figures in American history.

2. Facing Ali. Speaking of how fascinating Ali is, howsabout a documentary solely devoted to the reminiscences of ten guys who once fought him? Facing Ali does a remarkable job at filling in your impressions of the man, all the while offering ten unique perspectives on him as a fighter and a man. Not all are beholden to the public deification of Ali; in fact, some of his former opponents are downright resentful (and not without cause) at his treatment of them. It’s also a clear-eyed indictment of the fight game, showing the permanent effects on these once-fearsome, vital men (fully half of them are subtitled, not because they don’t speak English, but because their speech has degenerated over the years due to the incessant battering of the “sweet science.”)

3. Raging Bull. Sure this one’s a no-brainer, but that also means I can’t leave this still-stunning DeNiro/Scorcese portrait of boorish boxer Jake LaMotta of the list, right?

4. Unforgivable Blackness. Sam swears that this documentary about groundbreaking heavyweight champ Jack Johnson is as stirring a movie as you’ll ever see. If you don’t believe me, check out Sam’s forearms.

New Releases this week at Videoport: Hereafter (Matt Damon stars and Clint Eastwood directs this heartfelt drama about a guy who believes he can communicate with dead people; from my understanding, he does not use this in order to bilk gullible, vulnerable grieving people out of their money in the vain hope that he can deliver their relatives’ messages. On an unrelated note, James Van Praagh and Jon Edward should be punched in the crotch), The Fighter (Melissa Leo and Christian Bale won Oscars for their roles in this pretty darn good biopic of real-life Massachusetts boxer ‘Irish’ Micky Ward, who’s played by Mark Wahlberg, who is also very good in this), Waste Land (when this documentary about acclaimed artist Vik Muniz and his project teaching the residents of the world’s largest garbage dump [in Brazil] to make self-portraits using trash played in town a few months ago, it set off one of those waves of requests that make us just want to give Videoport customers a big, grateful movie-geek hug; well, it’s out now, and your hugs are comin’…), A Shine of Rainbows (sure, the title is so sickly-sweet it makes me want to upchuck smurfs, but this tale of a lonely Irish orphan boy adopted by Connie Nielsen and Aiden Quinn might just fall on the ‘heartwarming’ side), The Wildest Dream: Conquest of Everest (Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes lend their suitably-grave voices to this documentary about the mountain climber who found the dead body [and effects] of legendary, and legendarily-missing mountain climber George Mallory, and decided to find out what happened), Shadow (gory, intense horror about a nice guy who defends a nice girl against some jerk hunters [hooray!] only to find him, and her, and them all pursued by some backwoods creep with nastiness in mind [boo!].)

New Arrivals this week at Videoport: 8.5 Hours (Irish drama/black comedy about the various denizens of a financial film dealing with personal intrigues and the imminent demise of their company), No One Knows About Persian Cats (Iranian film about some recently-released-from-prison Iranian rock musicians trying to put the band back together, and find a way to play a gig in London.)

New Arrivals on Blu-Ray this week at Videoport: Exit Through the Gift Shop, Excalibur, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Fighter.

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