Volume CCCVI- Lars & the Real C.H.U.D.
For the Week of 6/28/11
Videoport. You know how you think of a movie you haven’t seen in a million years, and you can’t quite remember the title, but you think you remember that one actress who was in that thing that time and you just wish you could see it again because it reminds you of that particular moment in your life that you wish you could experience all over again? Yeah, Videoport’s got 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 Perfect Blue (in Japanese Animation.) In the trailer for Perfect Blue, Roger Corman is quoted: “If Alfred Hitchcock partnered with Walt Disney they’d make a picture like this.” I say Corman misses the mark a little. Perfect Blue feels more like a collaboration between Hayao Miyazaki* (Princess Mononoke, Kiki’s Delivery Service) and Brian DePalma (Body Double, Sisters) — but only at first. The introduction sets up a silly if juicy plot: a pert and innocent young pop idol named Mima leaves her musical career to pursue acting. Soon after, Mima starts receiving messages by fax and by internet (jarringly described in this 1997 film as “that thing that’s really popular lately”) from an obsessed fan or, um, someone… someone who knows every detail of her daily life, someone who witnesses the small humiliations of her new career, someone who describes the darkest aspects of her thoughts in the first person. And then some, um, stuff starts to happen. If the first act of Perfect Blue feels like a partnership between Miyazaki and DePalma, the second act veers into the territory of David Lynch or Roman Polanski, tangling up the seemingly straightforward stalker-thriller into their trademark interplay of reality and fantasy, muddling the timelines and narrative flow, and toying with our expectations about identity and agency. Fittingly, Perfect Blue gained new fame lately as a possible inspiration for Black Swan. Though there are some glancing similarities, but that’s all they are: glancing similarities of theme and story: the pressures of fame, deteriorating self-image, and the difficulty of discerning reality from desire. (Arguably, Black Swan contains a few momentary homages: the subway window, the bathtub scene.) You could put together a fun-but-harrowing Black & Blue double feature, but Perfect Blue would pair equally well with Polanski’s The Tenant or Repulsion or with Lynch’s Inland Empire.
* By namechecking Hayao Miyazaki, I’m not implying that Perfect Blue is suitable for children — oh, my goodness, NO. Yikes.
Tough and Triassic Tuesday. (Get one free rental from the Action or Classics sections with your paid rental.)
>>> Andy suggests After The Thin Man (in Classics). Sure, The Thin Man (1934) is an undeniable classic Hollywood comedy (and my coworkers here at Videoport have recommended it countless times), but it’s hampered by one thing. First it was a novel, written by Dashiell Hammett, then it was a screenplay, by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, which was then filmed by director Woody Van Dyke, with actors William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles, our charming, drunken sleuths. I might be wrong, but I would guess that the screenplay wasn’t changed much after Powell and Loy were cast in their roles and found to have marvelous chemistry. As good as The Thin Man‘s mystery is, I felt that the movie was pretty so-so when the Charles’s are offscreen. That’s why, and I know this is a bold statement, I think the sequel, After The Thin Man (1936), is better than the original. It may be, like all sequels are, a more-of-the-same movie, but in this case I’d say it’s more-of-the-same-but-funnier-and-more- focused. The writers, without a novel to adapt, created an original story that provided a clever mystery and, even better, hardly allowed for the stars to be offscreen for more than a few moments. In fact, the story conveniently takes the Charles’s to holiday family gatherings, nightclubs, and other places where the alcohol flows freely. There’s not a sober moment in the movie! The plot begins with Nick and Nora arriving at their San Francisco home following the events of the first film, and reluctantly being roped into another mystery involving Nora’s high society family. Blah blah, just watch it. Jimmy Stewart is in 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!)
>>> Elsa S. Customer suggests Wings of Desire [Der Himmel über Berlin] (in Foreign Language.) Peter Falk. [sigh] Oh, Peter Falk. Perhaps you remember him best as the rumpled and deceptively befuddled-seeming Lieutenant Columbo, or as The In-laws‘ irrepressible and shady Vince
Ricardo, or as the irascible story-telling grandfather in The Princess Bride, or even the grief-stricken, stultified Harry of Cassavetes’ Husbands. If so, Wings of Desire will be a revelation to you. In Wim Wenders’ romantic fantasy, angels gaze upon our every move and hear even our most secret thoughts, invisible to all but the most innocent among us. Though their mission is only to observe and, perhaps, to intangibly pass on a faint echo of hope to the mortals they encounter, one of the angels finds himself falling in love with a trapeze artist. The film, oddly and precariously balanced between pathos and humor (and teetering all the while above an abyss of pretentiousness), is half romance and half a meandering meditation on the city of Berlin, where it takes place. And amidst all that, we’re treated to a subplot following a movie star filming on location, a wry but sensitive fellow who — unlike the crowds of adults around him — can sense the presence of angels. Peter Falk (playing Peter Falk) brings a beautiful balance of human levity and graceful gravity to his role. Even when he’s simply trying on hats or sketching an extra, Falk radiates a cheerful unpretentious intelligence and palpable humor that leaps across the screen and into your heart.
Thrifty Thursday. (Get one free movie from any section with your paid rental.)
>>> We present a Facebook exchange from Videoport customers (and goddesses) Salli W. and Jan W. (who are, as far as we know, unrelated):
Salli: Hey Videoport! I just cancelled my Netflix!
Jan: I think Videoport also offers you a deal when you buy a gift card*- I usually get one for my self for Xmas. And think of all the awesome movies you can rent with that Netflix money. And all the awesome people you’ll run into on your way to The Old Port. And all the awesome exercise you’ll get riding your awesome new bike back to Videoport to return all the awesome movies you’ve watched. Pretty awesome, huh?
*You know it. $20 buys you $25 of store credit and $30 gets you $40 worth of rental credit!
Free Kids Friday. (Get one free rental from the Children’s or Family sections, no other rental necessary).
>>>Dennis suggests that Whitey Bulger’s parents probably didn’t teach him to handle DVDs properly. Remember: DVD handling is a direct and accurate barometer of your immortal soul.
Having a Wild Weekend. (Rent two, get your third movie for free from any section on Saturday and Sunday.)
>>>For Saturday, Dennis suggests Black Moon (in the Criterion Section.) My love for the Criterion Collection is well known; film snobs they may be (and bless ’em), but they take chances with their film geekery. I mean, last week they put out their typically-gorgeous release of Nicholas Roeg’s loopy, engaging Insignificance, and this week, we get a double shot of obscurities from director Louis Malle with the zany, slapstick Zazie Dans le Metro and this one, Black Moon, which suggests nothing so much as a filmmaker’s dream after eating a huge lamb dinner and reading Lewis Carroll right before bedtime.
It tells the story of, well, there’s this girl, see? Played by Rex Harrison’s granddaughter Cathryn, she’s plainly pretty, looking like Jodie Foster’s more earnest sister. As the movie starts, she’s driving alone in the country when she runs over a badger. That about ends the comprehensible portion of Black Moon. Along the way, we glean that the age-old battle of the sexes has finally broken out into actual warfare; male soldiers brutally execute female ones, and a group of females kick a male soldier to death. Fleeing, the girl ends up in a gorgeous, remote mansion where there’s a mean old bedridden lady and her twin children, an androgynously-beautiful brother and sister, both named, like the girl, Lily (the brother played by Warhol superstar Joe Dallesandro, who never looked more eerily beautiful.) There are talking animals (including a unicorn), unintelligible radio transmissions, naked children herding farm animals, children breastfeeding parents, huge glasses of milk, and on and on. It’s a dream movie, and like other such films (Robert Altman’s Images*, David Lynch’s Eraserhead, the Michael O’Donoghue-written Savages), your capacity to enjoy the dream lies in your patience with abstractness and the quality of the dream (or the dreamer.) Black Moon, like Images, eventually wore out my patience; unlike the other two examples, the director’s vision tended towards woozy unknowablity after a time. But I do love weirdness, and the Criterion Collection seems to, too.
*Coincidentally (?) Cathryn Harrison is also in Images, being just as lovely and confused-looking.
>>>For Sunday, Elsa S. Customer suggests Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (in Mystery/Thriller.) The opening of Fire Walk with Me serves as a warning to us: credits play over a staticky TV, promising us appearances by a host of names familiar from “Twin Peaks”... then that TV is smashed in a shower of sparks and with an unknown voice screaming in the background. This frames the ensuing story: the film absolutely relies upon the viewer’s familiarity with the cozy-quirky world of the TV series, but even as it employs the mythology and grammar of the show’s world, the movie viciously rejects the comforts of the drowsy little town of Twin Peaks. Then comes the most damning scene, an example of the kind of
over-the-top quirkiness that sank the movie: FBI Bureau Chief Gordon Cole (David Lynch reprising his role from the series) meets with his field agents (Chris Isaak and Keifer Sutherland) and gives them notes on their upcoming case. But rather than simply speaking or writing, Cole transmits his “notes” via Lil (Kimberly Ann Cole), a red-clad orange-bewigged woman who performs a coded dance of exaggerated movements and expressions. For a lot of viewers, this chapter points out everything that’s wrong with the movie, and I ain’t arguing. Lil’s dance feels like an asinine self-parody, a ham-fisted caricature of the show’s whimsy. It’s clumsy, but it serves a purpose: like the smashed TV, Lil’s dance gives us a flash of warning: forget what you think you know about this story. The message you’re about to receive is not what you expect. We’re about to enter Deer Meadow, the shadowy opposite of Twin Peaks. Here there is no pleasant Double R Diner, no outstanding cherry pie, no quietly competent and welcoming sheriff, no damn fine coffee, no Special Agent Dale Cooper, and no beloved Homecoming Queen with a mysterious secret. The victim here is Teresa Banks, whom you may remember from the TV series; she was mentioned in passing, an unseen woman murdered by the same killer who claimed Laura Palmer’s life. But Teresa is no golden girl: she’s a short-time night-shift waitress in a seedy diner, her home is a shabby trailer that lacks even the simple necessities of middle-class life, and no one seems to know much about her — or to care. As dim and dismal as this is and as sorry as we are to dig into Teresa Banks’ squalid life and death, it’s only priming us for the deeper sorrow of witnessing — of becoming complicit in — the last days of Laura Palmer’s short life. In the TV series, Laura is a distant dream, a lovely portrait gazing out passively from the school’s trophy case or
from her parents’ mantel, a brief snip of footage innocently cavorting with Donna on a mountaintop. In Fire Walk with Me, Laura is unsettlingly tangible and willful. Her actuality and her agency undermine all the romanticized memories and projections that the series fueled and make her despair painfully real. We’re forced to face the sordid grotesqueries of her young life, the denial and culpability of her loved ones, and the terrible choices her trauma has led her to make. That’s not to say it’s a great film: Fire Walk with Me is a deeply, deeply flawed film, marred by terrible diversions into the absurd and the surreal at the cost of coherence or sense. But it has its moments, and they’re terrifically effective, in part thanks to Sheryl Lee’s bravura acting. She takes some weird turns, but her Laura is dizzyingly mercurial, one moment passionate and the next as cold and numb. Lee also gives Laura an unsettlingly subtle habit: she never maintains eye contact, which gives her scenes a strangely potent aura of deep disconnection from her friends and family. But those laughable diversions of Lynch’s have their own ineluctable power. Just between you and me and the whole internet, the night that we watched FWWM, I kept shuddering awake from nightmares, clutching the blankets to me and shrinking from noises in the dark. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me divorces itself from the cozy comforts of “Twin Peaks” the series; it’s as if “Twin Peaks” itself has entered The Black Lodge and transformed to its dark, dismal, incomprehensible alter-ego.
New Releases this week at Videoport: Sucker Punch(from the computer-happy spazz who
brought you 300 comes this everything-including-the-kitchen-sink over-the-top action extravaganza featuring, among other things: hot chicks in skintight leather, ninjas, dragons, robot samurai, steampunk Nazis, swords, guns, helicopters, and Jon Hamm), ‘Rizzoli and Isles’- season 1 (one’s a cop, one’s a medical examiner…they fight crime! Angie Harmon and Sasha Alexander take on Boston’s crimiest crimes in this cop show), Season of the Witch (Nicholas Cage is back…again; this time, he’s a medieval knight tasked with bringing a young suspected with for a fair and impartial burning at the stake when things get all spooky on him), Beastly (a vain prettyboy gets cursed to look all ugly and stuff; can the pretty girl help him overcome his curse and make him pretty enough to make out with again? I’m gonna go ahead and guess yes. Co-starring Neil Patrick Harris, so that’s a good thing…), ‘Warehouse 13’- season 2 (Videoport’s Sci Fi section welcomes the new season of this X-Files-y series about a pair of government agents [one male, one female, both hot] trying to unravel supernatural mysteries and uncover the big conspiracy afoot; I did mention the X-Files, right?), The Warrior’s Way (Geoffrey Rush, Danny Huston, and Kate Bosworth overact amusingly alongside the requisitely-silent Asian sword master in this bizarre martial arts/western hybrid that seems out to make every 17 year old video game enthusiast say ‘whoa!’ every ten seconds), Barney’s Version (always-fascinating Paul Giamatti stars in this comic drama about a sleazy TV producer looking back on the tumultuous events of his love life when a book comes out accusing him of murder; costarring a scene-stealing Dustin Hoffman), Beneath Hill 60 (gritty, based-on-one-of-those-true-stories WWI thriller about an Australian platoon tunneling into a secret, leaky labyrinth filled precariously with enough explosives to change the course of the war; you just know somethin’s gonna blow up real good at the end…), Vanishing on 7th Street (from the director of the excellent horror film Session 9 comes this spooky-looking thriller about a small group of people who wake up one morning to find out that nearly everyone else in the world has disappeared; oh, and there are demons in the darkness trying to drag them away, too), Carancho (Argentinian drama about a young doctor and an insurance agent falling in love against the backdrop of an apparently very corrupt Argentinian insurance system), ‘High School of the Dead’ (it’s an anime zombie apocalypse, with schoolgirls wielding katanas and wearing impractically-skimpy outfits!), Max Manus: Man of War (Videoport’s foreign language section makes room for this rip-roaring WWII actioner about a real-life legendary Norwegian resistance fighter who blew up a lot of the Nazi’s best stuff.)
New Arrivals this week at Videoport: Dust of Life (orphaned in the chaos surrounding the fall of Saigon, three boys attempt to build a raft to escape the hellish detention center they’ve been thrown in), 3 Backyards (intriguing indie drama with a good cast [Edie Falco, Elias Koteas, Embeth Davidtz] about three suburbanites whose seemingly-unrelated actions on one ordinary day come together unexpectedly), Black Moon and Zazie Dans le Metro (Videoport’s Criterion Collection section brings in two Louis Malle flims; Black Moon is a dreamlike, nightmarish tale of a young woman fleeing from a world where the war between the sexes has become frighteningly literal into a remote cabin where a weird family enacts their own, more subtly-creepy battle; Zazie Dans le Metro is a more benignly-weird fantasy about a little girl who runs off from her uncle’s care to explore a kaleidoscopically-weird Paris on her own.)
New Arrivals on Blu Ray this week at Videoport: Barney’s Version, Sucker Punch, Sucker Punch (Extended Version), The Warrior’s Way, Season of the Witch.