Volume CCXCII- Cloverfield of Dreams
For the Week of 3/22/11
Videoport gives you a free movie every day. Except on that one day. Oh wait, you get one on that day, too. So, yup, a free movie every day.
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 Straight to Hell Returns (in Incredibly Strange.) Sometimes the universe just slips you a little present. Sure, it’s unimaginably cold, and cruel, and implacable in its disregard for all we hold dear, but every once in a while there’s a tiny surprise under your tree, as it were, and this
re-release of director Alex Cox’s cult film certainly qualifies, at least for me. Let me explain. I was living in that same house I referenced last week when I reviewed Mystery Science Theater 3000; you know, the one with the slovenly, frequently-high, infrequently-dating post-college guys sitting around and watching movies all day. Well, for reasons which may or may not become apparent, our beery, date-deprived band latched onto this 1987 offering from Cox (director of Repo Man, Sid and Nancy, Walker, and many other things no one but me cares about).We got obsessed with it, and watching it while drinking Colt 45 “bullet boys” and giggling like monkeys became a ritual. It’s a ramshackle, woozy, spoof of spaghetti Westerns on one hand, and a completely-irresponsible excuse for Cox and his actor and musician friends to hang out in Spain for a few weeks, get completely hammered, and goof around on someone else’s dime on the other. And we all fell in love with it. Maybe it’s the very knowing wastefulness of the whole idea, and the clear fact that everyone is having such a good time. Or the genuinely-weird sense of humor. Or the even more clear fact that everyone involved was just as grimy, bleary, and disreputable as the film’s characters. Or maybe it’s just that we just wanted to hang out with literally everyone in the movie on a sun-drenched, booze-drenched-er
movie set in Spain. There’s Joe Strummer (of the Clash), Elvis Costello (of being awesome), Jim Jarmusch, Dennis Hopper, Grace Jones, Courtney Love (shrill and insufferable to a purpose this time), the guy who played the mad scientist in Repo Man, Cait O’Riordan, Sy Richardson (ultra-cool and hilarious as Norwood), and the legendary Irish band The Pogues (in toto) as the evil, and coffee-addicted MacMahon clan. The plot: four inept bank robbers wind up in a decrepit desert town and run afoul of the MacMahon’s, who run the town with a caffeine-jittery trigger finger. (And don’t forget Circle Jerks bassist Zander Schloss as the Wiener Kid.) That’s basically it, although the description can’t begin to encompass the truly-inspired, often-surreal humor, wit, and deadpan oddity on display. And now, thanks to that pesky universe, there’s even more to love/be bewildered by/be annoyed by in the form of several deleted scenes. Sure, for most people, that seems utterly-incomprehensible, if not outright cruel, but for certain others (me, and those friends I don’t see nearly often enough) it’s enough to feel like the universe makes just that much more sense. A perfect film…for certain people.
Tough and Triassic Tuesday. (Get one free rental from the Action or Classics sections with your paid rental.)
>>> Andy suggests Two Mules For Sister Sara (in Classics). What a weird hybrid this movie is! Based on a Budd Boetticher (The Tall T, Decision at Sundown)story, this movie was rewritten and then made by Don Siegel (Dirty Harry,Invasion of the Body Snatchers) and Clint Eastwood into an American knockoff of a spaghetti western, complete with a great, nutso Ennio Morricone score. It’s a
story about a mercenary (Clint) who saves the live of an attractive young nun (Shirley MacLaine). The two travel together to their eventual destination in Mexico to aid some revolutionaries. Much of the movie is a romantic comedy/road movie, punctuated occasionally by action, like the delightful scene where MacLaine has to help drunken Clint dynamite a train. It’s an elaborate action sequence that would have failed utterly if the two actors didn’t have chemistry and comedy chops. Two Mules walks that quirky line effortlessly. By the way, Leonard Maltin’s guide gives this movie a positive review, but says the movie is “marred by needlessly violent massacre climax.” Yeah, it’s pretty gruesome (there’s a nice machete-to-face shot, for example), but I, for one, didn’t mind.
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 using the super-awesome Videoport Wednesday special (4 movies, 7 days, 7 bucks) to become Portland’s biggest Wim Wenders expert. Wenders was at the forefront of the German cinema renaissance (see Herzog, Fassbender) that seemed to evolve their own individual
artistic approaches to coping with their country’s identity. Wenders explored the existential dilemmas of those who chose a rootless path, maybe to try and forge a new identity, maybe to escape their past one. Anyway, his movies, at least until he seemed to run out of ideas in the late 90’s, are really great, odd, and perfect for cinemaphiles such as Wenders himself. Here’s a checklist of what you can rent at Videoport (personal recommendations in bold):
-The Scarlet Letter (1973)
-Alice in the Cities (1974)
-Wrong Move (1975)
-Kings of the Road (1976)
-The American Friend (1977)
-Lightning Over Water (1980)
-Room 666 (1982)
-The State of Things (1982)
-Paris, Texas (1984)
-Wings of Desire (1987)
-Notebook on Cities and Clothes (1989)
-Until the End of the World (1991)
-Far Away, So Close (1993)
-Lisbon Story (1994)
-Beyond the Clouds (1995)
-The End of Violence (1997)
-Buena Vista Social Club (1999)
-The Million Dollar Hotel (2000)
-The Soul of a Man (part of ‘The Blues’ series- 2003)
-Land of Plenty (2004)
-Don’t Come Knocking (2005)
Thrifty Thursday. (Get one free movie from any section with your paid rental.)
>>> Dennis suggests Silver Streak (in Classics) and Stir Crazy (in Comedy.) I miss Gene Wilder. Of course, since he was, in his day, the funniest human being who ever lived, I miss Richard Pryor, too, but I’m doing a thing here…just go with me. I think, apart from the fact that he was so insanely talented, I was at a formative age when I first saw Wilder and Pryor teamed up in these two late
70’s/early 80’s comedies and, sheltered suburban white boy that I was, I just really felt reassured that these two guys, one white, one black, really liked each other. Sure, in each movie they got on each other’s nerves, the streetwise, impossibly-cool one and the goofy, slightly-naive one, but their bond, forged by a murder spree on a train in the first film, and an undeserved stretch in the pokey in the second, seemed born both of mutual respect and appreciation. It was comforting, and I had no doubt that, off-screen their race-blind friendship was just as strong. I hate reality. Reading Gene Wilder’s (quite well-written) autobiography “Kiss Me Like a Stranger,” I learned that he and Pryor weren’t friends at all; Pryor could be charming and thoughtful, and kind (there’s a tale of him sweetly raising the spirits of the clearly-dying Gilda Radner on the set of their last, terrible movie together that made me feel all warm inside), but he was also often paranoid, and distant, and capricious, in the way only a deeply troubled drug addict movie star can be. Again, reality sucks. But that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying these first two team-ups, where each man’s prodigious, singular talents play off each other so well. Silver Streak is a would-be Hitchcockian tale of an ordinary guy (Wilder, as a frizzy-haired Cary Grant manque) who gets involved in some murderous duplicity (and with the lovely Jill Clayburgh) on the titular cross country train. It’s a serviceable comedy-mystery, but of course the real attraction is Gene and Richard (as a streetwise thief roped along for the ride), their mismatched personalities and styles creating huge laughs and seemingly-genuine affection. The marquee scene where Wilder, on the lam, is shoe-polished and taught to act “black” in order to evade capture was rewritten the night before by the two when Pryor objected to the original plan (where a black man would be fooled by Wilder’s disguise); in Wilder’s book, their conversation about this, with Pryor upset and withdrawn, but eventually coming to Wilder with his objections, is as close to that ideal relationship I always wanted. Stir Crazy (directed by Sidney Poitier) comes along years later, with the duo both accused of something they didn’t do, sent to a no-kiddin’ penitentiary. Their interplay tighter, and looser, than ever, and they have some scenes (their first entry into the jail cell, for instance) that scale to all-time-classic heights and although the film sort of peters
out with a too-drawn-out, and too-serious rodeo/escape plot, it’s another example of their unique comic alchemy. So now Gene’s retired, Richard’s gone, we can go ahead and pretend that Another You and See No Evil Hear No Evil never happened and just enjoy what they were. And what they seemed to be. (And you don’t even want to know about his marriage to Gilda. Reality sucks…)
Free Kids Friday. (Get one free rental from the Children’s or Family sections, no other rental necessary).
>>> Dennis suggests that proper DVD handling is a pretty easy skill to teach your kids. Rule 1- NEVER TOUCH THE SHINY SIDE OF A DVD. Rule 2- There is no rule 2.
Having a Wild Weekend. (Rent two, get your third movie for free from any section on Saturday and Sunday.)
>>>For Saturday, Elsa S. Customer suggests Rebecca (in Mystery/Thriller/the Criterion Collection.) Hitchcock’s adaptation of Du Maurier’s novel delivers is the pinnacle of the neo-Gothic mystery: a winsome heroine (Joan Fontaine), a debonair older man (Lawrence Olivier), a whirlwind romance, a gorgeous family estate, a forbidding servant (Judith Anderson), and an absolute heel (George Sanders doing what he does best).
>>>For Sunday, Dennis suggests Nightfall (in Classics.) Videoport’s Andy suggested this 1957 film noir a few VideoReport’s ago and, since I agree with Andy nearly 50% of the time, I took my sweet time before popping it into my DVD player. And, what do you know, Andy was right! That’s what almost nearly sometimes happens! Directed by Jacques Tourneur, the man behind some truly intriguing low-budget films over the years like Cat People, I Walked With a Zombie, Out of the Past, Curse of the Demon and others, Nightfall has a pretty standard noir setup. Navy vet Aldo Ray is on the run from some baddies who want the bank loot they inadvertently left behind when they left him for dead. Along the way, he teams up with a sexy young Anne Bancroft and a crusty old insurance investigator who
thinks he’s innocent. What really makes Nightfall are the performances and some odd, edgy choices along the way. Ray is great in the lead; himself a beefy WWII vet, he brings a nice low-key charisma and decency to the noir staple, the wrongly accused guy. His scenes with the already-striking Bancroft are warm and intelligent, and Ray’s hoarse, regular guy delivery (he sort of sounds like Super Dave Osborne) is quite endearing. Nightfall also benefits from having some truly-creepy bad guys; Brian Keith is calm, rational, and coldhearted, while Rudy Bond’s grinning, sadistic henchman is genuinely-unnerving. And the whole thing ends with a nicely-shot shootout in the snow with a nicely-ghoulish coup de grace (think Fargo.) Remember: trust Andy almost some of the time!
New Releases this week at Videoport: The Tourist (Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie star in this Charade-esque thriller about two impossibly-pretty people getting mixed up in picturesque espionage shenanigans all over Italy; or, you know, you could just watch Charade…), Yogi Bear (Dan Aykroyd
used to be funny, Dan Aykroyd used to be funny, Dan Aykroyd used to be funny…), How Do You Know (director James L. Brooks [Broadcast News, As Good As It Gets, Terms of Endearment] and star-power out the wazoo [Paul Rudd, Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Jack Nicholson] all combine to make this romantic comedy about a retired pro softball player who has to choose between two twinkly fellas), ‘The Venture Brothers’- season 4, volume 2 (the animated adventures of a truly bent version of the Johnny Quest crimefighting team continue in this cult favorite series),
Skyline(the invasion of alien invasion movies continues with this sci fi thriller about those space jerks luring the people of Los Angeles outside to get sucked up into the sky and so forth; starring that professionally-unlikable guy from ‘Six Feet Under’ and Turk from ‘Scrubs’)
New Arrivals this week at Videoport: who missed Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello? Anyone? Well for the silent majority of you out there, Videoport brings in four Frankie and Annette Double Feature discs! That’s eight, count ’em eight F&A beach, ski, and occasional racecar frolics: Beach Blanket Bingo/How to Stuff a Wild Bikini, Muscle Beach Party/Ski Party, Fireball 5000/Thunder Alley, Beach Party/Bikini Beach can all be found in the Incredibly Strange section!!! You…are…welcome!, and howabout some 70’s Italian mob movies starring in-exile American second-tier actors? You lucky people, here comes Jack Palance in Rulers of the City, and Henry Silva in the trilogy Caliber 9, The Italian Connection, and The Boss, all from director Fernando Di Leo; Quentin Tarantino lends his approving quote on the cover of this boxed set, so that’s a thing…), Burnt by the Sun 2: Predstoyanie (there’s a sequel to the pretty-darned-beloved Russina film Burnt by the Sun, about the continuing travails of a loving father and daughter now dealing with Stalinesque exile, war, and those damned Nazis), Straight to Hell Returns (see Monday’s review! I could not be more excited about this!), Scooby Doo and the Curse of the Lake Monster (I’m tempted to make fun of this direct-to-DVD third sequel directed by the same guy who did Beethoven, both Flintstones movies, Are We There Yet? and Snow Dogs [a guy who should essentially be sterilized at this point] but there’s this adorable little guy who’s been asking very politely for us to get it for months now, so I’ll just say,
“enjoy, big man”), Birdemic: Shock and Terror (speaking of things that people have been shockingly-excited-about, here’s this year’s candidate for “so bad it’s hilarious” cult status, a ‘The Birds’-esque thriller about, well, birds, trying to kill everybody; everyone is calling it this year’s ‘The Room’...), The Windmill Movie (haunting, experimental documentary about a guy who tried, and failed, for 20 years to make a documentary about his own life; when he died, his wife and friends [including Wallace Shawn] completed the project), Arthur and the Invisibles 2 & 3 (remember that French animated fantasy Luc Besson directed? No? Well, he did, and here are two more…), A Streetcar Named Desire (excellent 1995 production of the Tennessee Williams play starring Alec Baldwin [back when he was still in The Bubble], Diane Lane, Jessica Lange and John Goodman), Sasha (German film combines classical piano, forbidden love, homophobic parents, immigrants, and a smidge of hope to create touching drama), Carmo, Hit the Road (a smuggler in a wheelchair, a woman desperate to get to anywhere, some bandits, and some breathtaking scenery in this Brazilian romance/drama.)
New Arrivals on Blu-Ray this week at Videoport: The Tourist, Skyline, Anchorman.