Volume CCCVII- The C.H.U.D. and the Whale
For the Week of 7/5/11
Videoport’s unparalleled selection gives you the unique opportunity to be the only human on the planet to rent the VHS copy of the 1986 film Blue City, starring Ally Sheedy and Portland’s own Judd Nelson. Go on, we dare you…
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.)
>>> Dennis suggests King Kong(2005) in Action Adventure.) I finally got around to watching
this, Peter Jackson’s massive take on the classic story. And I gotta say,I don’t know what people were complaining about, really. Sure, it takes a while to rev up, but, in the hands of someone like Jackson (Lord of the Rings– duh), even the to-some-interminable set up is filled with neat bits of detail and the unmistakable impression of a guy just enjoying making movies. Plus, I like a grand cinematic bit of folly- it’s like the movie Heat, a three hour exercise from a director who just wants what he wants, and conventions be damned. And, for everyone who complains about action movies sacrificing character development in favor of special effects and eye candy, well, with Peter Jackson, you get the character development, and the detailed period setting, and the social realism, and the whiz-bang special effects. So again, I don’t see what you’re complaining about. In the casting department, a lot of criticism got lobbed at Jack Black’s performance as cinematic huckster Jack Denham, and I can sorta see the point there; I think Jables is a uniquely-talented
comic, and think he can even act a little [see Margot at the Wedding, The Holiday], but he does seem a little out of his depth here, although, with his portly frame in his natty suits. he does call up the young Orson Welles, as his fanatical pursuit of ever-more-dangerous shots for his film puts everyone in increasing peril. As the non-apey point of the film’s love triangle, Adrien Brody is fine; it’s kind of a thankless role, but he pulls of the hero stuff with aplomb, and, if we’re as disappointed as the leading lady seems when she ends up with him at the end, well, that’s not his fault, really. It’s hard to compete with the King. And, as for the central relationship (you know, between a girl and her monkey), Jackson handles it uniquely, and beautifully. Sure, sociologists and ethnologists can have their usual field day deconstructing the gender or racial tropes underlying the tale of a blonde white woman being lusted after by the hulking ape, etc. I’m sure
they’ll all get solid B-pluses on their term papers. But this is a big monkey movie. The big monkey falls in love with Naomi Watts, because, well, who wouldn’t. And she, unlike the still-misguided (and creepy) Jessica Lange performance in the 1976 version, doesn’t so much get all hot and bothered at the thought of hot (albeit anatomically-impossible) monkey sex, as she comes to understand and respect the devotion of a wild animal to her, to feel protective of it when outsiders attempt to harm it, and be grateful for the seemingly-unending series of instances when it ignores its own safety in order to keep her from having her head ripped off. I mean, in the original, all Fay Wray had to do was scream really, and Lange was a spacey, what-the-hell-lets-go-for-it flower child with Stockholm Syndrome. Watt’s Ann is more like Koko’s kitten, adored and protected by something that has, improbably, taken a shine to her, that their relationship goes so far outside of the natural inclinations of their respective natures gives it surprising power. It’s an interesting vision of Kong, too; some complained that, by making him more realistically just a big ape (strikingly and realistically embodied by Andy Serkis and an army of technicians), Jackson robbed the character of some of the mythic power of the original (and let’s just go ahead and pretend the 1976 one never happened from here on out, ‘kay?). But I disagree; Serkis’ realism makes the improbability of the devotion he feels for the human lady that much more tragic to me; for whatever reason, the big ape decides to override its genetic programming and risk its life for this tiny, shiny creature. And look at the scene where they watch the sunset together and try not to feel something like awe… And Serkis’ physical performance (and it is a performance) is really a joy to watch on screen. Throw in some of the ickiest monsters in move history (man, Skull Island is not where you want to get stranded, you know, if you like your face), and the heartbreakingest ending of all time, and King Kong is exactly the sort of oversized spectacle that the movies were made for.
Tough and Triassic Tuesday. (Get one free rental from the Action or Classics sections with your paid rental.)
>>> Elsa S. Customer suggests The Seven Year Itch (in Classics.) It was a mid-century ritual in Manhattan: as July and August heat up the streets, thousands of wives and kids leave the city for summertime cabins in New England while their working salaryman husbands and fathers eke out bachelor lives for a few lonely weeks. Well, maybe not so much with the “lonely.” In The Seven
Year Itch, Richard Sherman (Tom Ewell) packs off his wife and son to Maine on the very same day that he meets his glamorous new neighbor (Marilyn Monroe, playing a character known only as The Girl) aaaaaand the day that he reads an article about infidelity. The two ideas understandably collide in Richard’s imagination. The film lets us peek in upon his fantasies, his daydreams, and his guilty panics, which play out operatically on screen as Richard lounges around woolgathering. Some classic comedies are timeless and universal, some are snapshots of their time. The Seven Year Itch is the latter: it’s amusingly dated and broad, and the script was cut to ribbons to meet the Hays code and pressure from the Legion of Decency. Because these restrictions cut much of Richard’s motivation, The Girl steals the show… though it’s hard to imagine it playing out otherwise. Marilyn Monroe, just reaching the peak of superstardom, wields her unique mix of luscious ripeness and impossible innocence with nary a wink, managing both to play the role straight and to send up the stock characters she’s best known for. Plus, the movie gives two pieces of indispensable summertime advice: 1) When it’s swelteringly hot, pop your undies in the icebox; 2) once in a great while when it’s too hot to cook, have champagne and potato chips for dinner.
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 A Fish Called Wanda (in Comedy.) Half heist film, half classic farce, 100% hilarious. The first time I saw A Fish Called Wanda, I laughed so outrageously hard
that I thought the theater might throw me out. The first time my dad saw it (on video at home), he laughed so hard I thought I might need to call an ambulance. Turns out, I wasn’t wrong to be concerned: in 1989, a Danish man named Ole Bentzen did apparently laugh himself to death during a screening of A Fish Called Wanda. Reports do not elaborate, so we’ll never know whether it was the sight of a nude John Cleese hopping on one foot while intoning Russian poetry that did him in.)
>>>Dennis suggests 13 Assassins (in the Made in Japan section.) (Sure, the new Takashi Miike film is a new release, but I suggest you pair it up with any of the 20 or so other Miike films currently lurking together in the Staff Picks section.) A quick primer on Miike: An absurdly prolific director, with more than 80 films to his credit (since 1991!), he’s perhaps best-known for the legendarily horrifying Audition, a mainstay in any “scariest movie of all time” argument; the shocking yakuza ultra-violence of Ichi the Killer; the pitch-black satire of family sexual mores Visitor Q (my pick for the “wrongest” film in his oeuvre, which is a compliment); the constantly-topping-itself Dead or Alive crime trilogy; or even the utterly bananas musical The Happiness of the Katakuris. Boundary-shattering sex and violence coupled with a sly sense of humor and consummate filmmaking chops — that’s Takashi Miike. 13 Assassins is Miike’s foray into the venerable samurai genre, with an aging samurai (Koji Yakusho of The Eel and Shall We Dance?) gathering the titular warriors in order to take out the evil lord (Goro Inagaki), whose Caligula-level depredations threaten to undermine the peace that’s held for so long. The setup obviously recalls The Seven Samurai, with the gathering of a
hopelessly outnumbered band of swordsmen for what seems like a suicide mission (complete with a final showdown in a tiny, booby-trapped village). For the film’s first hour, it’s surprisingly traditional, even (by Miike’s standards) a little poky. Plus, with almost twice the number of warriors being introduced in two-thirds the running time of The Seven Samurai, most characters (excepting Yakusho’s dignified leader and Inagaki’s cartoonishly supervillainous lord) get lost in the shuffle of samurai robes. But when the film’s final battle scene comes, 13 Assassins really kicks in, delivering an unbroken, 40-minute orgy of samurai swordplay. The tiny band takes on the lord’s entire 200-strong army, their peerless (and energetically choreographed) bladesmanship backed with an escalating series of elaborate, if increasingly improbable, traps that bring the vivid colors of fire and blood to the film’s heretofore resolutely earth-toned palette. Sure, the finale’s virtuoso set piece occasionally recalled Home Alone (one truly regrettable CGI surprise is a mistake), and perhaps 13 Assassins doesn’t scale the heights either of Akira Kurosawa’s admittedly unreachable standard or of Miike’s own more daring works. But it’s still a uniquely thrilling samurai flick in its own right.
Thrifty Thursday. (Get one free movie from any section with your paid rental.)
>>> Andy’s Noir CorNOIR! Andy suggests Human Desire (in Classics). To be honest, and I always am when talking about movies, Human Desire is not an especially good movie. I don’t really recommend it unless something in this mini- review interests you, or if you’re a Fritz Lang completist, or if you want to compare it to Jean Renoir’s La Bete Humaine(1938), which was
based on the same Emile Zola novel. This movie is a noir story of love, lust, and murder, about unappealing Glenn Ford falling in love with unappealing Gloria Grahame, who manipulates him into plotting the murder of her unappealing, blackmailing husband, Broderick Crawford. It’s not that bad, really, but it’s often very…unappealing. I was disappointed to see how, um, un-appealing Gloria Grahame is as the femme fatale, considering how beautiful and sympathetic she is in Nicholas Ray’s In A Lonely Place (1950). On the plus side, Human Desire has lots of trains in it! There are many scenes set on moving trains, with the engineers or in passenger cars, on train tracks, and in train yards. Trains are pretty cool, and there’s something about the way they look and move that works well in movies (think of The General, Strangers on a Train, Emperor of the North, Murder On The Orient Express, and Source Code). So Human Desire may be burdened with unappealing characters, but at least it has an attractive setting. For all the good, neglected classics released in the Columbia Film Noir sets (The Lineup, The Brothers Rico, The Sniper), there are also some forgettable Double Indemnity knockoffs. Human Desire is one of those. Another one is Pushover, which is actually a lot more enjoyable than Human Desire, thanks to Double Indemnity‘s own Fred MacMurray, and sexy young Kim Novak in the femme fatale role.
Free Kids Friday. (Get one free rental from the Children’s or Family sections, no other rental necessary).
>>> Videoport loves kids so much that we give them a free movie every Friday! In gratitude, howsabout we teach those lucky kids the intricacies of proper DVD handling! Ready, ’cause it’s complicated: DON’T TOUCH THE SHINY SIDE!!!
Having a Wild Weekend. (Rent two, get your third movie for free from any section on Saturday and Sunday.)
>>>For Saturday, Regan suggests Peter’s Friends and Return of the Secaucus Seven (in Feature Drama.) Friends with Peter. If you’re up for some Big Chill in your life then rent Return of the Secaucus Seven. Oh wait, it’s called Peter’s Friends! Thanks, Andy! Andy is so helpful. Like Lassie, only balder. My deeply hungover body started yelling at me around 5am, and so I was all “I got it! I’m up!” I put on Peter’s Friendsto lull me back to sleep. But I stayed awake because it’s
just-good-enough. The cast is great: those Fry-and-Laurie guys, Imelda Staunton. And the soundtrack is a hit machine. But it left me longing for…something more. More funny. More touching. Like Return of the Secaucus Seven. Some old activist-y friends get back together to huff glue and stuff. Not really. But it’s directed by John Sayles and if you haven’t seen this one, or Lone Star or Brother from Another Planet, then maybe this 4th of July you should go sit in a corner and decide if you really love America.
>>>For Sunday, Mrs. Piehead suggests renting Monsters (in Sci Fi), for certain reasons. Are you looking for an edge-of-your-seat, thrilling, alien action film? Then don’t rent this movie. Looking for a beautifully-photographed journey through rural Mexico with long, sumptuous shots of lush water and real people doing real, local things? Awesome! This is the movie you want. Just put your TV on mute or slow FF every time the two really bad American actors in the film start talking. There is really only one monster in this film, but you see it 3-4 times. You don’t need to know the “plot” here, as it’s an old one and poorly done. If you want to enjoy some beautiful scenery and don’t mind being bored out of your mind in between the quiet and pretty stuff, go for it.
New Releases this week at Videoport: Hobo with a Shotgun(the Grindhouse rebirth continues with this hyper-violent actioner about Rutger Hauer; he’s a hobo…and I understand he
has a weapon of some kind), BloodRayne 3: The Third Reich (There are those who say that Uwe Boll is the world’s worst director; those people are correct. Here’s the second sequel to a god-awful, based-on-a-video-game vampire movie…I’m sure this will end well), 13 Assassins (the new film from Takashi Miike [Audition, Ichi the Killer– check out the Miike tribute shelf in the staff picks section] is an over-the-top samurai action flick that all the cool kids are watching; see Wednesday’s review for more…), Of Gods and Men (acclaimed, much-requested film about a group of isolated monks who must decide whether to flee their Algerian monastery when local religious upheaval threatens violence), ‘Eureka’- season 4 (more sci fi comic weirdness in an isolated small town where the government keeps all its mad scientists and a regular guy sheriff tries to keep them from blowing themselves up and stuff…)
New Arrivals this week at Videoport: Zombie Holocaust (this notorious 1980 zombie splatterfest finally lurches its way onto DVD [and Blu Ray!?!?]), The Asphalt Jungle (Sterling Hayden, a young Marilyn Monroe, James Whitmore, and Sam Jaffe star in this John Huston-directed film noir about a heist gone wrong)
New Arrivals on Blu Ray this week at Videoport: 13 Assassins, Of Gods and Men, Zombie Holocaust.