Volume CCCIII- Beverly Hills C.H.U.D.
For the Week of 6/7/11
Videoport realizes that only true movie geeks read The VideoReport, so we’ll put this in terms you can understand: Videoport is the Rebellion and Netflix is the Empire. So lets all fly our X-Wings into the corporate Death Star and save all the independent, mom and pop rebel video stores by blowing it up with our, um, photon torpedoes? Aw hell, just rent at Videoport already…
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 Black Swan (in Mystery/Thriller.) Let me be frank: I expected to enjoy this film, but not to find it breathtaking or obsession-worthy despite the accolades of many, many
respected critics. (I was prepared — even hopeful — to be surprised. I wasn’t.) Is it still worth watching? Absolutely! Black Swan has a core of intelligence and wit, but the finished product is — perhaps intentionally — a bit crude, both psychologically and narratively. Natalie Portman plays Nina, a tightly controlled, deeply repressed soloist in a prominent ballet company who longs to play the dual leads in “Swan Lake”… but to do so, must transcend mere technical perfection and open herself to passion and, perhaps, to an inner darkness. For experienced viewers of psychological suspense films, the surprises in this film are momentary: jumps and startles rather than character-driven revelations. The biggest difference between Black Swan and more generic films of its ilk springs from director Darren Aronofsky’s gift for portraying jarring physicality. The images of Natalie Portman’s too-delicate ballerina wincing and smothering her pain brought little gasps of dismay to my throat, and I jumped at the little reveals even when they felt obviously manipulative. Unlike so much of Aronofsky’s transgressive work (Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler) , Black Swan walks us step-by-step through some pretty familiar psychological-suspense themes: maternal oppression and conflict, professional rivalry turning into personal vendettas, identity crisis, repressed sexuality bursting out unbidden, the shifting lines between reality and fantasy. He even gives us a little metatextual goose suggesting that his coloring-inside-the-lines approach may be intentional. Early in the film, the ballet director, Thomas, gives a speech about the upcoming production of “Swan Lake” that foreshadows the events we’re about to see played out, starting with ““We all know the story… Virginal girl, pure and sweet, trapped in the body of a swan” and ending with “Done to death I know, but not like this. We strip it down, make it visceral and real.” Over the next few weeks, Thomas creates a “Swan Lake” with some edgy elements that nonetheless looks strikingly familiar and traditional, as much a comfortable genre piece as Aronofsky’s Black Swan turns out to be. It plays with longstanding melodramatic tropes of female competition and artistic hysteria and also toys knowingly with allusions, direct or oblique, to previous films covering similar territory, most strikingly The Red Shoes, Repulsion, Persona, Cronenberg’s The Fly, Perfect Blue, and a whole handful of De Palma flicks. It’s a big, splashy B-movie, half melodrama, half-horror, all crafted with Aronofsky’s lavish attention and intention.
Tough and Triassic Tuesday. (Get one free rental from the Action or Classics sections with your paid rental.)
>>> Andy suggests Gunga Din (in Classics). From 1939, often called the greatest movie year in Hollywood history, here’s Gunga Din, one of the greatest adventure movies made in that classic era. Gunga Din, inspired by the Rudyard Kipling poem (and Kipling’s Sergeants Threestories), is the story of
three adventurous Brits fighting for treasure, camaraderie, love, and the glory of the British empire against an evil Kali-worshipping cult in India. Maybe the cult isn’t exactly evil; they’re just rebels trying to fend off the white-faced imperialists who are claiming their country for some far off Queen. As entertaining as the movie is, thanks to the talent of director George Stevens and his exceptional cast and crew, it’s necessary to remember that, well, 1939 was a very different time. It took me a few minutes to get into the spirit of the movie, largely because I was waiting for the movie to address the imperialism angle. Why didn’t the Brits just leave the nice brown people alone instead of punching and conquering them? And why do the brown people look just like white character actors in full body grease paint? The movie never addressed these issues. But I suppose I should not have expected it to. Gunga Din is both a very dated movie and a still-exciting adventure story. Also, I’d guess that it was as important an influence on the Indiana Jones movies (especially the Temple of Doom) as those silly old serials that get all the credit. This is a large scale action comedy, directed with great imagination, humor, and skill. I can just imagine Steven Spielberg and George Lucas 40 years later, watching Gunga Din and figuring out how to top it.
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 awesome Videoport Wednesday special (4 movies, 7 days, 7 bucks) to raid the Criterion Collection!For those of you not in the know, the Criterion Collection
(which has its own dedicated section at Videoport) has a long history of releasing the best films of all time, always jam-packed with loads of special features and jazzed up with remastered audio and video. Seriously, every Criterion DVD is a hit of pure, uncut cinematic crack, which makes that kitty-cornered section behind the TV Videoport’s cinematic crack den, I suppose. From the expected classics (The Third Man, Young Mr. Lincoln, Notorious) to foreign classics (they love Bergaman, Kurosawa, and others), to cult classics (The Man Who Fell to Earth, Shock Corridor, The Honeymoon Killers), to a few mega-blockbuster Hollywood spectacles
(Armageddon, The Rock, Robocop) they put out, I think, just to show they have a sense of humor, to just completely bananas stuff (experimental films by Stan Brakhage, William Klein, and Dusan Makavajev, plus the likes of Mala Noche, Symbiopsychotaxiplasm, Schizopolis, Equinox, and more.) So, my fellow moviecrack whores, I say take this Wednesday special, close your eyes and take home an armful of Criterion intoxicants for the week. It’s a nice, clean high, with no harmful side effects…unless you choose Sweet Movie. That stuff will mess you up…
Thrifty Thursday. (Get one free movie from any section with your paid rental.)
>>> Elsa S. Customer suggests ‘Big Love’ (in Feature Drama.) Y’know, it’s going to take a lot to get my sympathies on the side of a self-righteous white-bread polygamist, a man whose every whim he manages to justify as being a capital-R Revelation from God himself. But darned if the first season of “Big Love”didn’t swing it! Bill Paxton stars as the not always
likeable patriarch Bill Henrickson, the scion of a Mormon splinter faction now estranged from the compound where he was raised and established as a respectable entrepreneur and family man… and secretly the father figure to three households and husband to three wives. It’s a brightly suburban, ironically sunny vision of plural marriage, and a lot of the show’s no-nonsense appeal comes from Jean Tripplehorn who plays Barb, Bill’s first wife and the grounding force of the family as well as the series. During the first season, I admired how thoughtfully the writers explored the issues that arise in any marriage (here, times three) and also addressed subtle and not-so-subtle issues specific to polygamous marriage. But I’ll tell you now: once the show draws you in, that sunny, sane appeal shifts toward the ridiculous, the risible, the downright absurd. There was a recent kerfuffle in which Chloe Sevigny (the show’s second wife, Nikki) blurted out a low opinion of the recent season (“It was awful this season […] It was very telenovela.”) during an interview with The A.V. Club’s Sean O’Neil. I suggest, Chloe, that you loosen up and roll with it. When things started going off the rails in the second or third season, I rolled my eyes, but this point I’m hooked because it’s so absurdly over-the-top. Every one of the characters is making terrible, terrible decisions all the time — and it’s weirdly addictive to watch.
Free Kids Friday. (Get one free rental from the Children’s or Family sections, no other rental necessary).
>>>Andy suggests, for perhaps the thousand-billionth week in a row, ‘Star Trek- The Animated Series.’ Another week has passed and this wonderful series is rotting on the shelf in the kids section. So, as promised, here are five more reasons why you should rent this for free today:
1. This show has it all: an alternate universe where time runs backwards, talking cats with space helmets, a gaseous energy field, a sea monster, an Aztek deity in space, and Satan! Eat it up, sci fi fans!
2. It’s better than ‘Star Trek Voyager.’
3. The episode “The Cy-borgs of Sharmatar” actually coined the word “cyborg” as well as the words “internet” and “computer.*” Way to envision the future ‘Star Trek!’
4. It’s better than ‘Star Trek Enterprise.’
5. Gene Roddenberry told me that you should rent this. Another week, another five reasons you should watch this show. Come on, Portland, get your Trek on!
*Editor’s note: Sure, Andy may be making sh*t up at this point, but he’s really getting desperate here. Seriously, we’re all worried about him, so just rent this, just one disc…it’s free, and you’ll be saving a life.
Having a Wild Weekend. (Rent two, get your third movie for free from any section on Saturday and Sunday.)
>>>For Saturday, Dennis suggests triple feature #1 of the week with Cropsey and Brother’s Keeper (in Documentary) and Paradise Lost (in Mystery/Thriller.) The intersection of terrible crimes and the public’s often less-than-rational reaction to them makes up the common ground of these three documentaries. Brother’s Keeper (about the arrest of one elderly hermit for the supposed murder of his brother) and Paradise Lost (about the arrest of some heavy metal-loving Southern teens for a series of child murders) have been widely, and justly, praised as gripping, insightful, and unsettling examinations of the role of rumor, hysteria, and prejudice in the prosecution (or perhaps persecution) of socially-unacceptable suspects, all the while leaving you with the queasy idea that they may be guilty for all of that. And, with this week’s release of Cropsey, we’ve got the makings of a perfect weekend rent 2, get 1 free triple feature of uneasy awesomeness! The two filmmakers behind Cropsey grew up separately on Staten Island, each haunted by campfire tales of the mythical Cropsey, the possibly hook-handed child-snatcher who lived on the grounds of the old, abandoned mental institution. Only, there was an abandoned mental institution (with a scandalous reputation) in the woods of Staten Island, and there were homeless people (including some former patients who had drifted back after deinstitutionalization) living on the grounds, and there are a complex of hidden tunnels connecting all of the old buildings where such people lived. And a little mentally-disabled girl did go missing in the 70s, and a local, sketchy fella who indeed did live on the abandoned grounds was arrested for the crime, and was suspected of several more child murders. It’s a pretty irresistible setup, made all the more compelling as the film chronicles the hysteria behind the hunt, the shockingly-circumstantial and often downright-ridiculous evidence against the real-life alleged Cropsey, and, especially, the collection of Staten Island characters who made the search for the missing children and the presumed guilt of the suspect their life’s obsession. As in all three films, the defendant at the center of it all is hardly a sympathetic figure…but that doesn’t mean they’re actually the people who committed the crimes. All three films craft as suspenseful a thriller as any fictional Hollywood movie; watch them all in a row…I dare you.
>>>For Sunday, Dennis suggests triple feature #2 of the week, consisting of Black Death (in Action/Adventure), Flesh + Blood (in Sci Fi/Fantasy), and The Reckoning (in Mystery/Thriller.) Who loves them some plague? How about some religious persecution and hypocrisy? Well I’m sure we can all agree on some bloody sword violence, right? Anyway, it’s medieval mud, blood, and pustule time at Videoport! First up, there’s the new release Black Death, an above-average and suitably-grubby tale of the titular ickiness which is pus-ing its way across 14th century England, causing the Church to send out a band of brutally-bedraggled holy warriors (led by the ever-stalwart Sean Bean from the Lord of the Rings) to seek out a remote village where the plague has not set up shop (and which is run by a seemingly-benevolent PAGAN WOMAN…yeah, she may be evil.) Along the way, they pick up a conflicted monk as a guide, chop up some bandits, and occasionally succumb to the plague themselves, with decent British
actors doing their stuff (good ol’ Jon Lynch’s sad eyes do yeoman’s service), the makeup and costume people keeping everyone appropriately-grimy, and the final twist bringing the whole Christian’s-vs-pagans conflict into some semblance of complexity (the pagans really take it on the chin up until then.) All in all, not a bad entry in the “the world is a cold and evil place” genre. Speaking of, Flesh + Blood is director Paul Verhoeven (Robocop)’s take on the same period, complete with even more blood, pus, buboes, swordplay, and grime, plus Jennifer Jason Leigh and Rutger Hauer (Verhoeven’s favorite star in his earlier Dutch movies like Turkish Delight, Soldier of Orange and Spetters) engaging on seriously R+ rated sex scenes (one time in a medieval-style hot tub?!) Plus, the plague gets into the act with some strategic biological warfare. It’s disreputable, exciting, sleazy, bloody, nasty, and all-around enjoyable. Plus, if you ever wanted to see the voice of Bart Simpson’s boobs, this is your lucky day… And then there’s The Reckoning, a (surprise!) grim ‘n’ gritty medieval thriller about a troupe of traveling actors who run afoul of the untouchable nobility when they stumble upon some grimy little secrets in the muddy kingdom where they set up. Like the others, there’s convincing mud and crud all around, but the real draw here is the cast, with the players made up of Willem Dafoe, Brian Cox, Paul Bettany, and Inception‘s Tom Hardy, and Black Swan‘s Vincent Cassel bringing his ever-magnetic Euro-sleaziness to the role of the secretly-decadent lord of the manor. Plus, Dafoe’s lizardy, shockingly-flexible body gets lots of screen time! Come back- to the disease-ridden, sexually-incorrect, dripping, rat-infested middle ages…at Videoport!
New Releases this week at Videoport: True Grit (Videoporter have been clamoring for this new Coen Brothers Western since the moment it hit theaters, so now, finally, Jeff Bridges, as drunken marshall Rooster Cogburn, can growl his way into your heart), Passion Play (Mickey Rourke has been publicly badmouthing this oddball fantasy about a broken down boxer who runs afoul of Bill Murray’s ruthless gangster by running off with a be-winged sideshow performer [Megan Fox] who might be an actual angel; I know Mickey is insane, but this sounds like just the right kind of bananas indie project that’s be worth a rental), The Company Men (several white collar providers have to cope with the havoc wrought by that pesky economy in this anticpated drama starring Ben Affleck, Chris Cooper, Tommy Lee Jones, and Kevin Costner), Another Year (typically-well-observed and heartbreaking Mike Leigh movie [see Secrets and Lies, Career Girls, Topsy Turvy, etc for more] about seemingly the only happily married couple in England [the great Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen] dealing with the fact that all of their friends and coworkers are much, much more miserable than they are), Green Lantern: Emerald Knights (priming your engine for the big screen adventures of DC Comics’ magic ring-slinging space cop comes this big-budget animated tale of Hal Jordan featuring the coolest guy in any universe, Firefly’s Nathan Fillion in the lead! Plus, Roddy Piper does a voice!), ‘White Collar’- season 2 (instead of heading off to cushy rich guy jail for his massive financial crimes, a swindler is sentenced to help the FBI catch other corporate slimeballs before they empty your parents’ retirement accounts in this series), ‘Breaking Bad’- season 3 (Videoport’s all stocked up with copies of the new season of this massively-popular series about a dying high school science teacher [the revelatory Bryan Cranston] who starts cooking up crystal meth in order to provide for his family once he’s gone), ‘Burn Notice’- season 4 (the action/spy/comedy series about an officially-disavowed former government agent trying to find out why he’s been put on the ‘we’ve never heard of you’ list returns, with the show being consistently stolen by sidekick/ultimate awesomeness generator Bruce Campbell [The Evil Dead]), ‘The Big C’- season 1 (Laura Linney gets her own highly-regarded cable series with this darkly-comic tale of a woman diagnosed with cancer who decides to cut loose; costarring Oliver Platt and Precious’ Gabourey Sidibe), Just Go With It (Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston star in this comedy where a guy tells a lie to get a woman, and another woman helps him with the lie to get the other woman; I’m gonna go ahead and say that the two liars discover they’re actually in love…I just have a feeling), Sanctum (James Cameron loaned his underwater, Titanic-plundering camera technology to this thriller about a cave-diving team trapped in the cave they were diving in), Bill Hicks: American (hilarious, beloved-by-smart-people cult standup comedian Hicks gets the worshipful posthumous documentary treatment, along with about five hours worth of extras), Blue Crush 2 (for the both of you who wanted a sequel to the original surfer-girl drama, well, Videoport says this is your lucky day!), ‘Madagascar’ (David Attenborough takes his nature documenting cameras to the titular, wildlife-infested island nation; thankfully, none of the actual animals have celebrity voices), Cropsey (see Saturday’s review for details on this creepy, compelling true crime story!), The Trotsky (‘Undeclared”s Jay Baruschel stars in this oddball indie comedy about a young Canadian named Leon Trotsky who tries to live up to the Soviet leader, who he believes he’s reincarnated from.)
New Arrivals this week at Videoport: Every Day (a good cast [Liev Schreiber, Helen Hunt, Eddie Izzard, Brian Denehy] star in this indie drama/comedy about a married man having a very weird day), Arthur 2: On the Rocks (Videoport loves unnecessary sequels!), In Her Skin (an all star Aussie cast [Guy Pearce, Sam Neill, Miranda Otto] star in this real-life thriller about a 15 year old ballerina who goes missing; I’d check with Natalie Portman first…), The Housemaid (sultry South Korean thriller about a family man pursuing the titular family retainer), The Wild Hunt (nerdy-cool looking drama/thriller about a jilted guy invading his ex’s live action role playing tournament in order to win her back), A Matador’s Mistress (Adrien Brody [in very tight pants] stars as legendary bullfighter Manolete, coping with sexy Penelope Cruz and slightly-less-sexy rampaging bull horns), Leolo (1992 French-Canadian cult film about a shy teen who escapes the weird trials of living in his Montreal slum with a fantasy life where he’s the son of an Italian peasant, conceived when his mother accidentally had sex with a tomato; just go with it…)
New Arrivals on Blu Ray this week at Videoport: True Grit, Another Year, Green Lantern: Emerald Knights.