Volume CCXCIII- The Importance of Being Rodan
For the Week of 3/29/11
Videoport asks, “How many free movies do you need in a week? Seven? Let me check…yup, we can do that.”
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 Shadow of a Doubt (in Mystery/Thriller.) In the mood for a Hitchcock classic? Treat yourself to Alfred Hitchcock’s favorite Hitchcock movie. It’s at right angles to most of Hitch’s later work: no elegant blonde heroine, no ritzy locales for the
audience to “ooooooh” over, no patina of glamour buffing the suspense to a high gloss, just a bright screen of mundane comforts barely covering up a cesspool of human horrors. In this B&W 1943 thriller, young Charlotte “Charlie” Newton (Theresa Wright) is at loose ends, waiting around her doddering parents’ sprawling Victorian home, waiting waiting waiting for anything to lend some excitement to her life. Struck by inspiration, she decides to invite her dashing Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten) to come liven up their dull lives… and the very same day, Uncle Charlie telegrams the Newtons to invite himself for a nice long stay. Shadow of a Doubt pulls a tidy trick, passing itself off as a pleasant portrait of sunny small-town life, then shading every corner into darkness. Cotten masters his role with aplomb: Uncle Charlie is a
mercurial fellow, at turns avuncular, charming, distant, smarmy, and glacial, and Cotten makes him devastatingly believable. This seemingly innocuous film plumbs the depths of psychology and stirs up some hints of emotional connection between young Charlie and Uncle Charlie that may make you squirm. To give yourself goosebumps, watch the film all the way through, then review two scenes: Uncle Charlie’s monologue at the dinner table, and young Charlie’s introductory ramble. The parallels are harrowing. Perhaps more unsettling, the supposed sanctuary of family life is itself called into question: even before Uncle Charlie brings his corruption into Santa Rose, two of the sweetest and most ineffectual characters incessantly spin hypothetical murderous plots, a harmless little hobby to pass the time — and a solid jab at the audience’s thirst for violence and excitement. Shadow of a Doubt is a delicious, decadent tangle of contrasts: it’s emotional and cerebral, it’s cozy and comforting, it’s chilling and repugnant. It’s a masterpiece.
Tough and Triassic Tuesday. (Get one free rental from the Action or Classics sections with your paid rental.)
>>> Andy suggests Hang ‘Em High (in Action/Adventure). This one was Clint Eastwood’s first American western after hitting it big with Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns. I’ve heard Hang ‘Em High compared to those flamboyant Italian films, but I don’t see it. Though it’s a pretty dark story of merciless revenge and was filmed with some real flair, it looks like the entire movie was shot on a Hollywood backlot (probably because it was). It doesn’t have the grand scale of a Leone film, and no one will mistake Hang ‘Em‘s music for a Morricone score, though it is nice and doom-y. No, this is a good, square American western, up there with Mystic River as possibly the most old-fashioned movie Clint was ever involved with (with Mystic River I mean that in a bad way, but with Hang ‘Em High it’s a good thing). How’s this for a straightforward story: Cowboy Clint, a former lawman, is mistaken for a criminal by a posse and hung from a tree. He miraculously survives the lynching and swears revenge on every member of the lawless posse. He also falls in love with a prostitute and learns to respect the justice system. Hang ‘Em High features, in a small but showy role, the late Dennis Hopper as an insane prophet, and it was directed by Ted (Beneath the Planet of the Apes) Post. Look for it on my “Andy Picks His Favorite Westerns” shelf in the Our Picks section.
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 prurience*! Sure we all like porn, but sometimes the fakey gyrations of the professional fornicator just aren’t that interesting. So, in the interest of erotic diversity, I now present you with the definitive checklist of movies at Videoport with unsimulated sex acts from actual actors!!!!
–Sweet Sweetback’s Baadassss Song. (in Incredibly Strange; Although not as clearly-shown, director/star Melvin Van Peebles successfully filed a workman’s comp claim when he contracted VD from an actress in one scene, sooo…)
–W.R. Mysteries of the Organism (in the Criterion Collection; saucy Serbs)
– Pink Flamingos (in Incredibly Strange; Divine and some lucky, lucky fella)
–A Real Young Girl (in Foreign; calm down, the actress was actually 21 at the time; also, get used to the name of director Catherine Breillat…)
–In the Realm of the Senses (in Foreign; beautifully-tragic, super-explicit love story from director Nagisa Oshima)
–Caligula (in Drama; shouldn’t count, since sleaze-o producer Bob Guccione inserted [sorry] the unsimulated stuff starring porn stars after the film was completed)
–Cruising (in Mystery/Thriller; reportedly, director William Friedkin spliced in several frames of the real stuff in order to be all sexy and sneaky)
–Devil in the Flesh (in Foreign; only on VHS, so freeze framing the brief scene will be much more difficult…)
–The Life of Jesus (in Foreign; again, calm down- not the Jesus Jesus…)
–The Idiots (in Foreign; although I think the VHS of this Lars Von Trier film has censor bars over the stuff…)
–Romance (in Foreign; here’s Catherine Breillat again)
–Pola X (in Foreign; Gerard Depardieu’s son! Although there are rumors of body doubles)
–Baise-moi (in Foreign; although the two lead actresses were actually porn stars, too)
–Intimacy (in Drama; really good Mike Leigh-esque British drama features some explicit
work from respected actors Mark Rylance [Angels & Insects] and Kerry Fox [An Angel at My Table])
–Ken Park (in Incredibly Strange; from the makers of Kids! Now with added stuff! Ew)
–The Brown Bunny (in Incredibly Strange; you know about this one…)
–Anatomy of Hell (in Foreign; Catherine Breillat brings in one porn star off the bench to co-star in this one, so it still counts)
–9 Songs (in Incredibly Strange; acclaimed director Michael Winterbottom’s two stars do nothing but have onscreen sex and go to concerts; literally)
–Shortbus (in Incredibly Strange; wall-to-wall enthusiastic, multifaceted bonking from engaging amateurs in this one from director John Cameron Mitchell [Rabbit Hole, Hedwig and the Angry Inch])
–Destricted (in Incredibly Strange; eight short films about “the intersection of art and pornography” by the likes of Gaspar Noe [Irreversible], Larry Clark [perv], and Matthew Barney [The Cremaster Cycle])
–Antichrist (Lars Von Trier’s back, although it’s body double time again for the real stuff)
–Lie With Me (in Drama; if you ever wanted to see that unlikable, lizardy guy from Skyline get it on…)
–Indie Sex (in Documentary Arts; if you just want the good parts, this documentary about sex in cinema clips most of ’em out for you here…)
*Prurience: Inordinately interested in matters of sex; lascivious.
Thrifty Thursday. (Get one free movie from any section with your paid rental.)
>>> Dennis suggests using Videoport’s super-duper Thursday 2-for-1 special to take home a military travesty of justice double feature with Breaker Morant (in Feature Drama) and Paths of Glory (in the Criterion Collection.) Warning: the general tenor of this review is overall SPOILER-y. I finally forced myself to watch director Bruce Bereford’s 1980 court martial drama Breaker Morant this week; I don’t know why I hadn’t, except that its universal praise had an aura of the sort of prestige, high-fiber historical drama that sometimes makes me all sleepy. Thankfully, Breaker Morant is less decorously-fibrous than gritty, exciting, and though-provoking, with an undertone of righteously-pissed off indignation at the inherent amoral self-interested bureaucracy at the heart of every war that puts it squarely in the company of Stanley Kubrick’s similarly-indignant 1957 WWI drama Paths of Glory. Both films share a startlingly-similar structure: a long, grinding, futile war (the Boer War in Breaker, WWI trench warfare in Paths) begets a horribly-violent incident (a Boer guerilla attack and reprisals vs. a suicidally-stupid assault on an impregnable German stronghold), followed by a high-profile, fundamentally-deck-stacked military trial of three soldiers involved. In each case, the three soldiers are defended by an army lawyer whose hard-nosed yet idealistic belief that, in a situation where a government is set upon sacrificing individual soldiers for the sake of its own self-preservation, their appeal to truth, and human decency, will win the day is, well, I think you can guess. Both films feature an equal handful of truly compelling performances, completely-riveting courtroom drama, and (here comes the SPOILER) a goddamned heartbreaker of an ending. In each film also, the defendants are absolutely stellar: Breaker‘s got Edward Woodward [The Wicker Man] as the titular Morant, strapping, hotheaded Bryan Brown and innocently-handsome Lewis Fitz-Gerald, and Paths gives you character greats Joe Turkel, Timothy Carey and Ralph Meeker. All bring their ‘a’ game in creating consistently-surprising, original interpretations of men under extreme pressure. And, as the lawyers, you’ve got a great turn in Breaker from Aussie mainstay Jack Thompson [The Sum of Us] whose seeming inexperience belies some serious lawyerly chops [and an equally-serious set of Australian balls], and a similarly-powerhouse performance in Paths by Kirk Douglas as the shrewd [and shockingly-buff] French Colonel Dax. In both films, the hopes of the condemned men hinge on their committed attorney’s ability to circumvent the stacked deck of the military tribunal’s judges (acting at the orders of governments with decidedly “big picture” agendas); again, guess how that goes. If I have to choose one over the other, I’d take Breaker Morant, as the moral issues involved are a little more complex, but each film is a perfect illustration of how well individual morality fares against the implacable will of the ones with power and plans. As a character, (another regular guy dragooned into serving in another ambitious, uncaring kingdom’s war) says in Shakespeare’s Henry V, “How can they charitably dispose of anything when blood is their argument?” Indeed.
Free Kids Friday. (Get one free rental from the Children’s or Family sections, no other rental necessary).
>>> Get a free movie every Friday in the kids section, no other rental necessary. Yup, pretty much…
Having a Wild Weekend. (Rent two, get your third movie for free from any section on Saturday and Sunday.)
>>>For Saturday, Videoport customer Jason R. suggests True Grit (in Classics.) Film fans agree about little, except perhaps about remakes: they suck. There are perhaps exceptions this rule, John Carpenter’s The Thing comes to mind, but that might just be the proverbial exception that proves the rule. I think, however, that there might be another exception to the rule, the Coen brother’s True Grit. If you don’t believe me, check out the nineteen sixty-nine original with John Wayne. It is not a bad film, Wayne is so comfortable in his cowboy hero persona that he is enjoyable to watch and a youngish Robert Duvall (was that guy ever young?) does a good job as Ned Pepper. It is definitely a passable Western, but as I watched it I began to appreciate all of the choices the Coen brothers made. They took a Technicolor western and changed its palette adding layers of darkness and Old Testament vengeance to it. They also restored some of the unique voice of the novel. In the end this changes the film, the first is about crotchety old Marshall while the remake is about a young girl and her determination to find retribution. The film by itself is decent, but watching it as a follow up to this winter’s release of True Grit or as precursor to renting it when it is released on video is an interesting experience. It will remind you that remake, or reimagining, or whatever they are calling them now, is not always a bad thing. (However, this is not meant to encourage any more being made).
Editor’s note: the Coen Brothers’ version doesn’t come out unitl June 7th. Videoport will carry many, many copies. Patience, friends.
>>>For Sunday, Elsa S. Customer suggests A Place in the Sun (in Classics.) The film opens with a telling scene: a young man (Montgomery Clift) hitchhiking into town, wearing a leather jacket over a white t-shirt (Brando-style) and carrying everything he owns in a pasteboard suitcase. He turns out to be young George Eastman, the poor nephew of corporate magnate Charles Eastman, and he’s in town looking for a job. When the elegant Eastman’s family roll their eyes at his modest attire and demeanor, we’re predisposed to be on George’s side; we trust that this will be a simple story of rags-to-riches and pulling-bootstraps and American-dream. But A Place in the Sun is adapted from Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy, not an American dream… and a tragedy it is, in the classic sense: a
reversal of fortunes that a character brings crashing down upon himself. Clift is remarkable: quiet and winning at first, with a deep undercurrent of subdued passion — and glimpses of quiet desperation burbling up underneath. Indeed, all the performances are memorable. Shelley Winters is Alice, a drably pretty factory girl who works next to George; Winters gives Alice deep dimensions beyond the part that scripted for her: first pliant and pathetically romantic, later edging fearlessly into shrill panic. And of course, Elizabeth Taylor gleams her brightest as society girl Angela Vickers: she is intoxicating to be around, and you can well imagine a sensible man loosing his head in her presence. Director George Stevens (Shane, Giant) cannily allows unvoiced moments to carry weight: a young couple dancing in the dark as the samba plays and the camera pans over to an empty window; a newcomer walking through a bustling party scene trying to find a group to join; a factory worker talking to the boss while his seatmate silently takes on his works. These small, seemingly inconsequential moments add up, lending texture and tension to a classic narrative.
New Releases this week at Videoport: Tangled (the Rapunzel fairy tale gets the hip, CGI animated treatment in this startlingly-successful kids movie), Black Swan (director Darren Arnofsky’s enigmatic, creepy thriller about a tormented ballerina was, again, shockingly-successful; credit Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel, and people who love to get freaked right the hell out), ‘Mad Men’- season 4 (if you’re not already a fan of this great show about a 1960’s advertising agency, then now’s the perfect time to jump on the boozy, swingin’, sexist bandwagon; and that Jon Hamm’s easy on the eyes, I’ll tell ya’ that for free…), ‘Treme’- season 1 (Hi. You know how ‘The Wire’ is the greatest TV show in human history? Yeah? Well, this is the new show from ‘The Wire’‘s creators. It’s about post-Katrina New Orleans. It stars many ‘Wire’
alumni, like The Bunk and Lester Freamon. It is your new favorite show), Fair Game (remember when Dick Cheney and the loathsome ‘Scooter’ Libby outed the secret identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame in order to get back at her husband, an ambassador who had claimed that the government lied in order to justify the war in Iraq? Well, Naomi Watts and Sean Penn are in this lightly-fictionalized film version of those events which actually happened!!! Seriousy, WTF!?!?), All Good Things (Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst star in this ‘based on a true story’ movie about a rich young guy accused of killing his wife, who was never found; good ol’ Frank Langella’s lurking around there, too), Made in Dagenham (Sally Hawkins, Bob Hoskins, and Miranda Richardson star in yet another ‘based on a true story’ tale- this one about the groundreaking 1960’s strike of female autoworkers at a British Ford plant which led to sweeping reforms equal pay for women), Vanquisher (check out Videoport’s Martial Arts section for this sci-fi ass-kickery!)
New Arrivals this week at Videoport: The Resident (billed as coming from the reborn Hammer Studios, this direct-to-DVD thriller about Hilary Swank being tormented by her evil landlord [Jeffrey Dean Morgan] might not be the grand coming-out that Hammer had in mind; they did bring back Christopher Lee for old time’s sake, though), Father of My Children (devastating French drama about a successful film director dealing with suicidal thoughts; might want to rent something with puppies in it to balance this one out), Ingredients (yet another documentary listing all the things that you shouldn’t eat; I’m guessing those red Hostess Snowballs didn’t make the cut), The Swimsuit Issue (take it easy, 13 year old boys too young to buy real porn- this one’s a Swedish film about middle-aged men forming the country’s first all-male synchronized swimming team), Who’s the Caboose? (Sarah Silverman, David Cross, Jon Benjamin and other funny people star in this mockumentary about a film crew abandoning their do-gooder-y project in favor of following an aspiring actress to Hollywood), Colony (all the bees are dying, and this documentary strives to prove to those cursed to carry an epi pen with them at all times that that is a bad thing), The Human Experience (documentary about a band of brothers traveling the world and trying to figure out what it all means…and stuff), Hulk vs. Thor (HULK SMASH! THOR BASH!), Teenage Paparazzo (a young photographer in training in the least meaningful profession in the world), Husk (horror movie! Looks like with evil scarecrows!), Big River Man (documentary about a burly Slovenian guy who sets out to swim all 3,300 miles of the Amazon River), The People I’ve Slept With (saucy comedy about a promiscuous young woman who tries to figure out who the father of her oops baby is), Colin & Brad: Two Man Group (comedy from that guy who was on ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway?’ and some other guy), Punching the Clown (much-acclaimed indie comedy about a luckless comic singer-songwriter; Sarah Silverman loved it!)
New Arrivals on Blu-Ray this week at Videoport: ‘Mad Men’- season 4, Black Swan, ‘Treme’- season 1.