Volume CCCII- The Girl Who Kicked the Green Hornet’s Nest
For the Week of 5/31/11
Videoport : the local alternative to corporate mediocrity. Plus, we’ve got all the movies in the world.
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 Strange Days (in Sci Fi/Fantasy.) In Strange Days, director Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker, Point Break, Near Dark) creates an almost perfect specimen of the cult movie: it’s audacious, inventive, complexly woven, highly quotable, and frantically flawed. It takes place in The Future (which, I’m sorry to say, co-writer James Cameron designated as 1999. Yeeeeeah, whatever). In The Future of 1999 (seriously, y’all? The movie came out in 1995) the seething cyberpunk dystopia of L.A. is awash with political strain, a stark racial divide, and dirty cops. (Are we sure this is The Future?) In this volatile climate, seedy Lenny Nero (Ralph Fiennes) is no hero — he’s just keeping his head down and trying to scrape by. Lenny minds his own business… and that business is peddling the hot intoxicant, playback: not a drug, but a vicarious experience jacked right into your cortex. Procurers pay
criminals, partiers, and sexual adventurers to record the sights, sounds, and physical sensations of their most exciting, sordid, or lascivious moments, then sell the playback to tapeheads who get to sit safely, passively, while they consume the highs and lows of other people’s most intense moments and memories. As you’d expect, it’s a shabby, dirty business, and the movie doesn’t shy away from that shabbiness. Also as you’d expect, Lenny is his own best customer. Feinnes plays Lenny as a sweaty huckster with an uneasy smile and a smooth line of patter that alllllmost convinces people, and Angela Bassett carries the day as his fed-up best friend Mace. (Dear Hollywood producers: more Angela Bassett, please! kthxbi) The movie is a sleazy romp through the dregs of The Future (no, really, guys. 1999? FOUR YEARS AWAY from your release date?), but it’s also a sly indictment of the movie-going experience: the unsettling way that tapeheads sit, slack and utterly receptive, while they gasp at the intensity of borrowed emotions, their eagerness to relinquish their identities to embrace something fleeting, unfamiliar, even stolen — like I said, it’s a nasty business, folks.
Tough and Triassic Tuesday. (Get one free rental from the Action or Classics sections with your paid rental.)
>>> Dennis suggests The Replacement Killers(in Action/Adventure.) This is not a good movie. The indifferently-told tale of a hitman deciding he doesn’t want to be a hitman anymore, this 1998 action flick
is really only still in the public memory because of its star, all-time all-star cool guy of the universe Chow Yun Fat. In his first English language film, the endlessly-charismatic Asian superstar is hampered (slightly) by his tenderness with the language, (moreso) with his leading lady Mira Sorvino, and (near-cripplingly) with his director and screenwriter who craft a very ordinary movie in every way. And yet…like the pre-1998 fanatics of Chow Yun Fat’s that make up the Videoport movie geek contingent, you’ll be enthralled by the man’s screen presence…and killing skills. Of course, if you want to see what he can really do, look to the “Made in Hong Kong” section for the real stuff (mostly directed by John Woo): Hard Boiled, The Killer, A Better Tomorrow, God of Gamblers, Prison on Fire, City on Fire, and on and on. The man is one of world cinema’s most charismatic stars.
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 any other Darren Arnofsky movie than Black Swan (in Mystery/Thriller.) Ms. Elsa S. Customer and I finally steeled ourselves to watch the nigh-universally-praised Black Swan. Yup. That wasn’t very good at all, was it? I lay the blame squarely on the, as ever, impeccably-manicured head of Natalie Portman. Yeah. She’s not very good at all, is she? Look, she was twelve the last time she impressed anyone in The Professional, and in between then and now she’s been a complete dead space on various screens in the likes of such justly-forgotten nonsense as Where the Heart Is, Anywhere But Here, No Strings Attached, and, of course the execrable Star Wars prequels. (Seriously, her reading of the word
‘younglings’ will haunt me to my grave.) And in Arnofsky’s ambitious psychological ballerina thriller, she just cripples the whole endeavor from the get-go. Sure, her neurotic ballerina unable to get in touch with her inner feelings might seem to play to her (lack of) strengths (blankness, dullness inability to express any emotion under the surface of her porcelain flesh), but when the film requires her to wake up and start expressing, you know, anything but bland disquiet, she, and the movie, are lost. And as for her “pulling a DeNiro” in order to do all of the dancing scenes her army of doubles couldn’t realistically fake, well, Jared Leto did that for a couple of movies, too. Arnofsky, undeniably one of the most talented and challenging directors around today can’t escape all of the blame outside of the casting, either. For all of the praise heaped on the film, I kept thinking back to lowbrow entertainments like Dario Argento’s Opera or the Marx Brothers’ A Night at the Opera, which draw gravitas from a highbrow subject matter into its essentially frivolous story (at least the Marx Brothers are fun.) There are some nice body horror effects (although the final one is very CGI-riffic), and supporting players Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey, and Mila Kunis (the only truly living human in the film) have much more going on that Portman, but the whole enterprise needs a leading lady with far more depth to breathe life into a premise that wouldn’t have seemed out of place in an old Twilight Zone episode. I heartily suggest checking out Arnofsky’s Pi (in Feature Drama), Requiem for a Dream (in Feature Drama), The Fountain (in Sci Fi/Fantasy), or The Wrestler (in Feature Drama) instead…
Thrifty Thursday. (Get one free movie from any section with your paid rental.)
>>> Dennis suggests Never Apologize (in Documentary Arts.) You know how there are some actors you wish you could just shoot the bull with for a couple of hours? Well, if Malcolm McDowell is one of your choices for bull-shooting, this is your lucky day, with the release of this one man show where the now-wizened star of A Clockwork Orange reminisces about his lifelong relationship with Lindsay Anderson who gave McDowell his fist big break with If…, and went on to cast him in O Lucky Man and Britannia Hospital. It’s a cozy, warm evening of storytelling; Malcolm takes a little time to get revved up, and maybe his tales of working with Anderson sometimes lack a snappy punchline from time to time (the audience often doesn’t know when to applaud, not realizing the story’s over), but things pep up as McDowell’s obvious affection for his subject comes through. Plus, he’s a confident and deft mimic, easily slipping into the accents (Irish, Scottish, American, Welsh, Northern English) and voices of the famous characters (including Rachel Roberts, Anderson, John Gielgud, John Ford) that people his stories. It’s nice just to listen to McDowell; so long consigned to crappy genre films and out of the public eye, he’s still got that twinkly charisma and, with his snow white hair and impossibly-craggy face, he’s still pretty riveting. (And the caricature of McDowell on the cover is pretty much worth renting on its own.) All in all, a lovely way for a film fan to spend and evening.
Free Kids Friday. (Get one free rental from the Children’s or Family sections, no other rental necessary).
>>>Andy suggests, for the sixth week in a row, Star Trek – the Animated Series. Since another week has passed and no one has rented this delightful show, I’ll give you five more reasons to rent it:
1. Videoport’s April says Star Trek “will make your inner nerd rejoice!” Andy agrees, and adds that “it’s free, so it will also make your inner cheapskate rejoice!”
2. This show has more Vulcans in it than The Muppet Show, Looney Tunes, and Spongebob Squarepants combined!
3. Abraham Lincoln, widely considered one of our best presidents, was a huge Trekkie!
4. Studies show that children who watch Star Trek – the Animated Series grow up strong, tall, and brainy. Similar studies of children who grew up watching the Star Wars movies range from inconclusive to alarming.
5. It’s way better than Skyline. Seriously, f*ck that movie.
There. Five more (mostly legitimate) reasons you should rent Star Trek- the Animated Series. For free. Jeesh, do I have to twist your arm?
Having a Wild Weekend. (Rent two, get your third movie for free from any section on Saturday and Sunday.)
>>>For Saturday, an Anonymous Videoport Customer returned Mammoth (in Feature Drama) with the following note attached: “This movie is profoundly sad. Very, very sad. Uhg…”
>>>For Sunday, Elsa S. Customer suggests The Road (in Feature Drama.) John Hillcoat’s adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s bleak novel is an odd thing: a masterfully rendered film that, just maybe, should never have been made. If you’ve read McCarthy’s book, you know the premise: years after an unspecified catastrophic event, a father guides his young son on their grueling, possibly pointless journey through the post-apocalyptic landscape of a dead earth. The novel is so searing, so heartrending, that any movie would be a pale imitation. The world that I pictured reading this book was brutally bleak and configured the way only the imagination can make it: both dauntingly vast and so small that it wraps up claustrophobically around the two main characters. Hillcoat and his crew managed to stage a believably bleak apocalyptic landscape, which is a staggering accomplishment… but totally beside the point, because the real bleakness of The Road is not the external landscape but the internal landscape, where the terrain is a treacherous path of subtle moral choices and emotional pitfalls. In the novel, the characters are both individual and allegorical, identified only as “the man” and “the boy.” In the film, they are necessarily individualized and identified, and their motives and actions are necessarily simplified and explained. That specificity robs their tale of its universality, of its allegory. The dangers of the road, the futility of plodding on in this dead world, the tragedy of seeing humankind devolve into plunderers and savages, the struggle of one’s own choices — all these mortal, moral terrors become no more than a recitation of horrors; the film turns into something like a high-brow zombie flick.
New Releases this week at Videoport: Justin Bieber: Never Say Never (has it become too boring to make fun of the titular tween-y music leprechaun? Someone let me know and I’ll get back to you next week…), ‘True Blood’- season 3 (Goth-y Southern vampires just want to live peacefully among us…or do they??? The highly-anticipated third season of this HBO series will tell), ‘Psych’- season 5 (the amiably-funny adventures of fake psychic James Roday and more sensible straightman pal Dule Hill continue in this eminently-watchable comedy/mystery series), Drive Angry (Nicholas Cage drives his muscle car straight out of Hell in order to rescue his kidnapped granddaughter! Apparently, Hell’s highway roadblocks are about as effective as Hazzard County’s…), Biutiful (Javier Bardem received another well-deserved Oscar nomination for his turn here as a morally-conflicted low-level criminal and single father trying to make his way through his morally-compromised world as he copes with some terrible news; from the director of Babel, 21 Grams, and Amores Perros), ‘Swamp People’- season 1 (History Channel series about the individualistic, eccentric, and borderline-nutty denizens of America’s squishy places as they embark on their annual alligator hunt), The Big Bang (did you ever hear of this sci fi/action thriller starring the likes of Antonio Banderas, Delroy Lindo, and William Fichtner? No? It came out last year…about a detective trying to find missing strippers…something to do with quantum physics? Well, it exists, and Videoport’s got it!), The Scenesters (when a serial killer starts picking off hipsters in L.A., an out of work filmmakers starts a slacker-y investigation in this dark comedy you’ll find lounging in Videoport’s Incredibly Strange section), Prey (ecological horror about some gun-happy hunters at the service of a pesticide company rapidly, and ironically, finding themselves hunted, perhaps by something displeased with their nature-rapery), The Waiting City (Rahda Mitchell stars in this drama about an Australian couple whose journey to India to pick up their adoptive baby becomes something more mysterious), Ka-Boom (pioneering, pansexual cinematic provocateur Gregg Araki [The Living End, The Doom Generation, Mysterious Skin] returns with this tale of a multi-sexual group of college students mixing and matching in a naughty, sci fi-tinged comedy; find it in the Incredibly Strange section!)
New Arrivals this week at Videoport: Lady Jane (a fresh-faced Helena Bonham Carter and Cary Elwes starred in this 1986 costume picture about Lady Jane Grey, whose entry into a British royal marriage went about as well as you’d expect), Death Wish (in its typically bass-ackwards, yet awesome, way, Videoport brings in Charles Bronson’s first vigilante blockbuster the week after we got its next three sequels; NEVER QUESTION OUR METHODS!), Fuel (this documentary, about a guy desperately trying to warn us about the inevitable environmental, economic, and social collapse coming from our overdependence on fossil fuels brings the number of well-intentioned and largely-ignored activist documentaries at Videoport to approximately 3,502; perhaps we can all burn them for warmth when the oil runs out), High School High (why did Videoport purchase this forgotten 1996 Jon Lovitz inner city high school comedy; well, I assume it’s because of something you did…), ‘Avengers, Volume 1: Avengers Assemble!’ (the cartoony exploits of the Marvel Comics superhero team now busy assembling in real-life, big screen form all over the place), Freedom Riders (alternately harrowing and inspirational, this American Experience documentary looks back on the time when brave men and women had the audacity to suggest that black people were, you know, people; of course, they were all beaten senseless- way to go, America!), A Somewhat Gentle Man (the ever-intriguing Stellan Skarsgard stars in this dark Norwegian comedy about a recently paroled murderer dealing with his former gang, a stoolie, some dames, and his son’s fiancee’s family who, weirdly enough, do not approve of murderers), Never Apologize (see Thursday’s review for the details!), The Parking Lot Movie (long-awaited documentary about the curiously-overeducated employees of a Virginia parking lot who loathe their customers, play oddball games, and hang out at the lot even when they’re not working; wait, overeducated, nerdy, aging geeks clowning around at a ‘menial job’? Why does that sound familiar…), Q&A (the late Sidney Lumet directed this crackling 1990 thriller about straight-laced DA Timothy Hutton trying to corner cagy, corrupt cop Nick Nolte.)
New Arrivals on Blu Ray this week at Videoport: Drive Angry, I Am Number Four, Platoon.