VideoReport #296

Volume CCXCVI- Much Ado About Mothra

For the Week of 4/19/11

Videoport gives you a free rental every day, gives you a free rental with every movie you buy from us, gives you free money with our payment plans (which you can use for free rentals). Man, do we ever charge for anything? We should probably look into 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.)

"Just because you haven't heard of it doesn't mean it's awful!"- Andy

>>>Andy suggests Backtrack (in Mystery/Thriller). I must’ve said “Dennis Hopper is so weird” a dozen times while watching this movie. Of course, that’s no surprise to anyone who knows anything about his life or has seen his performances in Apocalypse Now, Blue Velvet, Easy Rider, or any of the other eccentric performances he’s known for. But I was still expecting Backtrack, directed by and starring Hopper, to be a conventional “hitman falls in love with his target and battles the mob” movie. In another director’s hands, this probably wouldn’t be a notable movie, but Hopper seems to give it his all. As the leading man, he may be a cold and methodical killer, but you know he’s soulful because he plays the saxophone to express himself, and you know he’s cool because he wears sunglasses at night. The supporting cast is a knockout: Jodie Foster as the target, Fred Ward as a cop, John Turturro as a mob goon, a very old Vincent Price as the mob boss, a very young and adorable

Back when his craziness was lean and mean...

Catherine Keener in a small part, plus DeanStockwell (yay! Blue Velvet reunion!). And then there are the uncredited cameos: Charlie Sheen as Jodie Foster’s doomed boyfriend, Bob Dylan (!?!), and Joe Pesci, who is in half the movie without a screen credit. Looks like Dennis Hopper called in a lot of favors for Backtrack. The question is, why so much effort for this modest romance/mob movie? Hmmm… well… I could tell you, but then I’d either have to kill you or fall in love with you.

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

>>> Elsa S. Customer suggests All About Eve (in Comedy.) Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night. Joseph Mankiewicz’s deliciously dry, wry story of Broadway diva Margo Channing (Bette Davis) and Eve Harrington (Anna Baxter), the doe-eyed fan she takes under her wing: it’s been selected for preservation by the National Film Registry and slated at #16 on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 best American Films.

She is NOT impressed with you, Eve...

Mankiewicz legendarily insisted that his script be followed to the letter, and you can see why: its sardonic snap depends upon the marvelously gifted cast delivering their lines with biting precision. Oh, and they do. All About Eve is eminently quotable and viciously funny, but it also shows the often caustic Bette Davis crumpling into moments of touching vulnerability. The film is overstuffed with bravura performances, and the Academy recognized them: All About Eve received two Best Actress nominations (Davis and Baxter) and two Best Supporting Actress nominations (Celeste Holm and Thelma Ritter). That’s right: all four major female roles were nominated for the Academy Award. Also notable is George Sanders, playing the same character he always plays: the highbrow heel always ready with a sharp remark. And he plays it to the hilt, winning himself a well-deserved Best Supporting Actor Oscar. All About Eve also walked away with Best Picture (against stiff competition, including Sunset Boulevard and Born Yesterday) , Best Director and Screenplay (both to Mankiewicz).

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!)

>>> Elsa S. Customer suggests “The Addams Family” (in Comedy.) Wow, Videoport never ceases to please and surprise me! You guys have “The Addams Family” on DVD! When I was a kid, in the days before video rentals and 100 channels of endless cable, afterschool afternoons were a litter of 1960s reruns, and “The Addams Family” was the only one I looked forward to. At an age where all the other little girls on the block brushed their long blond hair and dreamed of becoming Marcia Brady, I was stretching out the cuffs of my black sweater and practicing the deadpan Wednesday Addams look, hoping against all odds to grow up into a graceful morbid Morticia. My favorite thing about “The Addams Family”: how extraordinarily supportive, kind, and loving they were — of each other and of almost everyone they ever met. At its heart, “The Addams Family” promotes a much healthier message than its fellow supernatural sitcoms. “I Dream of Jeannie” and “Bewitched” hinge on the need to hide one’s true nature for fear of the neighbors’ scrutiny; these shows are all about repression and conformity (and notice how the focus their repression on the subjugation of female power). “The Addams Family” shows a household of sweet oddballs completely comfortable with their inner nature, totally unafraid to display their true selves to the outside world, and equally willing to accept others as they are. If only we could all be so confident, so tolerant, so comfortable in our own skin.

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

>>> Dennis suggests Marwencol (in Documentary.)* A guy crouches in his backyard, playing with dolls. A pugnacious, gruff New Yorker who wouldn’t seem out of place on “The Sopranos,” Mark Hogancamp was viciously beaten by some thugs outside a bar in 2000. His face and memory shattered, with inadequate health insurance jettisoning him from mental and physical therapy way too soon, Hogancamp found himself cut off from his past and facing poverty and a shaky future. So he built a whole world. Hogancamp’s Marwencol is a 1/6th-scale model, WWII-era Belgian village where vintage G.I. Joe and Barbie models — painted, posed and clothed in dynamically-detailed scenes — act out an evolving narrative. As the documentary about Hogancamp’s story progresses, we realize his village creation and his life are similar in fascinating and surprising ways. Marwencol is a nonviolent sanctuary where soldiers of all nations (and the town’s indigenous sexy lady doll contingent) live in rowdy harmony. At least until the SS show up …As Hogancamp’s and Marwencol’s twin histories are gradually revealed, troubling elements of each begin to crop up, psychological mysteries skillfully unveiled by director Jeff Malmberg. We meet Hogancamp’s friends, his coworkers, his mom (amusingly depicted tending bar by a Dr. No Pussy Galore figure), and several women whose relationships with Hogancamp become intriguingly troubling storylines in Marwencol’s turbulent history. Unlike Hollywood versions of this story (like the reprehensible J.J. Abrams-penned Regarding Henry), Hogancamp’s traumatic brain injury did not serve to solve all his problems by turning him into a simple-minded sweetie; he was a complicated character before, and he remains one now. Some documentaries are built around an irresistible story (2010’s Catfish is another), and Mark Hogancamp’s world certainly qualifies. Malmberg’s treatment of his subject is especially skillful and sensitive, tickling the audience with clues and hints, all the while showing obvious affection and respect for Hogancamp. Like the similarly thrilling documentary In the Realms of the Unreal, Marwencol‘s portrait of an “outsider artist” with (possible) dark secrets is moving, unnerving and, ultimately, inspirational. With a final, metatextual twist that made my head swim…

*Editor’s note: Hey…what the hell? Dennis, get in here!

Dennis: Hey chief.

Editor: Don’t call me chief. And isn’t this the review you wrote for the Press Herald on…January 20th, 2011?

Dennis: Ummm…

Editor: Do you want me to post the link?

Dennis: Well, Videoport just got the documentary, and it’s really good, so…

Editor: That’s it- you’re fired, you self-plagiarizing hack!

Dennis: I’m fired?! I’ll kill you!!

Editor: Bring it on, tiny!

Ms. Elsa S. Customer: Um, Dennis… what are you doing?

Both: We were just…

Ms. Elsa: You…you know you guys are the same person, right?

Both: …

Ms. Elsa: C’mon, sweetie, it’s nappy time…

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

>>>A free kids movie, with no other rental necessary? ‘Kay…

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

>>>For Saturday, Dennis suggests Innocence Unprotected(in the Criterion Collection.) I love the Criterion Collection. Sure, for their lovingly-restored deluxe DVD releases of the expected classics and foreign films, but perhaps more because, for a hoity-toity distributor, they seem to have a weird sense of humor. From their releases of Hollywood blockbusters

And this...

(presumably chosen to highlight just how Hollywood Hollywood blockbusters can be) like Armageddon, RoboCop, and The Rock, to fringe-y oddball experiments like Symbiopsychotaxiplasm, Mala Noche, and Schizopolis, to cult films like The Honeymoon Killers, Fiend Without a Face, and Equinox, those kooks at Criterion keep my inner film geek happy. And, with their “Eclipse” budget boxed sets, Criterion has begun picking up handfuls of lesser-known, invariably-cool smaller films from well-known (or not) directors; it’s such a geeky treat that I get all tingly whenever I see a new set come in to Videoport. Innocence Unprotected was released as one of the three part Eclipse collection of films by Serbian madman director Dusan Makevejev, whose better-known (and utterly-insane) films Sweet Movie and WR: Mysteries of the Organism have already gotten the deluxe Criterion treatment, and while the earlier Innocence Unprotected is less shocking, and bananas, than those films, it’s plenty bananas in its own way. Taking its title and inspiration from Serbia’s first talkie, made during German occupation in 1942, Innocence Unprotected weaves scenes from the original (a melodrama about a beleaguered orphan girl in love with a strongman/daredevil and beset by an evil stepmother and an old lech) with present day (1968) interviews with the former actors, director, and, most-entertainingly, the real life strongman star Dragoljub Aleksic, who’s still burly, buff, and hanging from things by his teeth in his late 60s. Makevejev intercuts charmingly-inept clips from the original film, interviews with the now-elderly Serbs tickled to talk about their one film experience, films of Aleksic’s mind-bogglingly-unsafe daredeviltry, unexpectedly-shocking WWII footage, some hand-colored animation, all juxtaposed for maximum off-balance entertainment. The still-vital Aleksic is especially magnetic, whether talking about his career and horrifying injuries (he now wears a metal corset he fashioned himself), showing off his still-incredible stamina, or, in one scene, bending an iron bar…with his teeth!! Thank you Criterion, for keeping film freaks on their toes.

>>>For Sunday, Elsa S. Customer suggests The Room(in Incredibly Strange.) Most

Soak him in, ladies...

low-budget vanity projects end up unseen, unknown, unparodied. But not Tommy Wiseau’s The Room. For some reason, this talentless lump of movie rose to prominence as a terrible example, a failure of epic proportions, a perfect example of how to do everything, but everything, wrong. The Room became a cult film, spawning screenings around the country and attracting the attention of such media-savvy critics as The A.V. Club and Patton Oswalt, and has brought crowds of renters and theater-goers to their knees with laughter. But I have to admit: The Roomhad an unexpected effect on me. It’s almost impossible to describe how odd this film is. It’s not just hopelessly inept (though it is certainly that), but deeply uncanny, as if a group of non-Earthlings decided to make a Lifetime channel movie (but inexplicably decided to make it from the perspective of a misogynist), and used signifiers that they thought actual humans would recognize: red roses and pillowfights are romantic; saying hi to doggies and supporting young persons of indeterminate age means you’re a Good Person; pictures and portraits of spoons depict, I dunno, domestic comfort. In The Room, all the conventions of film language (and indeed, of normal life) are a little askew, and it fills the whole movie with a pervasive sense of wrongness. At first it’s pretty funny to see just how wrong it is, how utterly incompetent Wiseau is as a writer, a director, an actor — how

Yeah, and youre gonna see his butt. Let that sink in...

completely he fails to convey even the most mundane of daily life to the screen. But after a while, my laughter wore off and a deep despair took hold. I still have not entirely shaken it. (Wiseau’s appearance didn’t help: he looks like Fabio after a week in the grave, and even the way his grayish skin clings to his golem-like frame is pretty unsettling.) Listen, I LOVE bad movies. But The Room is a different creature than, say, Road House or even Bloodrayne. I can understand how and why those films got made, and how and why Boxing Helena got made, and how and why most of absolutely terrible movies get made. But I don’t understand how and especially why someone spent giant sacks of money to make The Room, and seeing it made me wonder why anyone tries to do anything. Seeing the film plunged me into a pit of existential angst, and it took days to climb back out. The Room is the abyss, and I have looked into it.

New Releases this week at Videoport: Somewhere (director Sofia Coppola [Lost in

The week's best new release.

Translation] brings another tale of a spoiled Hollywood star [Stephen Dorff this time instead of Bill Murray] forced to face up to some harsh truths about his aimless existence by the unexpected appearance of a young woman [this time it’s Dorff’s neglected daughter, Elle Fanning], and, once again, it’s pretty damned riveting; more of a low-key mood piece than Lost, it’s still an intriguing little movie), The King’s Speech (the movie won the Oscar, Colin Firth won the Oscar, the director and the screenwriter won the Oscar, your mom loves it- Videoport has stocked up…GO!!), ‘New Tricks’- season 2 (the British mystery series, about a trio of retired cops tackling cold cases, continues…), Gulliver’s Travels (Jack Black takes on Jonathan Swift’s satirical masterpiece, presumably by falling down and farting a lot), ‘If God Is Willing and da Creek Don’t Rise’ (Spike Lee follows up his wrenchingly-brilliant New Orleans documentary When the Levees Broke with this miniseries about how the city has responded to the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina…and the Bush administration), Fubar: Balls to the Wall (finally, a sequel to the cult mockumentary about two Canadian stoner best friends with dreams of hard rockery…), Rabbit Hole (Nicole Kidman was nominated for an Oscar in this heartbreaker drama about a couple coping with their son’s death; directed by Hedwig and the Angry Inch‘s John Cameron Mitchell), Goemon (Japanese blockbuster about the titular legendary Robin Hood-esque bandit is wall-to-wall action and visual splendor; from the director of Casshern), Street Kings 2 (remember when you were clamoring for a direct-to-DVD, largely-starless sequel to that Keanu Reeves action movie? Anyone? Hello..?), Born to Raise Hell (Steven Seagal continues, in defiance of all sense and decency, to make direct-to-DVD action movies…), Glee Encore (if you ever wanted all the musical numbers without any of that pesky acting, it’s your lucky day), The Way Back (Aussie director Peter Weir [Picnic at Hanging Rock] brings us this fact-based drama about a grueling escape

To reiterate: YEAH!!!!!!!!!!!

from a Russian gulag starring Ed Harris and Colin Farrell), “Kids in the Hall: Death Comes to Town” (YEAH!! The legendary Canadian comic troupe returns with this decidedly-bizarre and hilarious miniseries about, well, Death…coming to a small town), ‘Brotherhood’- season 3 (the continuing Sopranos-like shenanigans of a Providence Irish mob family.)

New Arrivals this week at Videoport: John Leguizamo: Freak! (Spike Lee directed this autobiographical one man show from the hyper-talented comedian/character actor), Marwencol (see the Thursday review…and then this movie), Shaun the Sheep: The Big Chase (the loveable sheep spun off from Wallace and Gromit continues his clayey cuteness), Sharpay’s Fabulous Adventure (Disney tween fare about the Broadway adventures of something called Ashley Tisdale), Farewell (Willem Dafoe costars in this true tale of a French spy telling tales on the Russians, to the Americans…), A Summer in Genoa (director Michael Winterbottom [Tristram Shandy, 24 Hour Party People] brings us this tale of a grieving widower who brings his two daughters to live in Genoa to escape the grief over their mother’s death.)

New Arrivals on Blu-Ray: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows- Part 1, The Chronicles of Narnia 3: Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

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