Volume CCCXX- Rodan Holiday
For the Week of 10/4/11
Videoport gives you a free movie every day. And, since we have thousands upon thousands of all the best, worst, and weirdest movies in the world all right at your fingertips, why not just take a chance and rent something you’ve never heard of. Be bold, 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 checking out the Employee Picks section in the middle aisle, where Andy and I are neck-deep in a movie geek recommend-a-thon! Both of us have a shelf of “good movies
that nobody ever rents” going on and I’m not saying anybody’s keeping score about whose picks rent better (and therefore prove who is loved more), but you should check out our selections of great, underrented flicks. Sure, you might go for Andy’s Japanese faves, like The Cherry Orchard or All About Lily Chou Chou. Or maybe a VCR-riffic Dennis double feature of Wim Wenders’ Until the End of the World and John Sayles’ City of Hope. Or howsabout the criminally-underrated crime drama One False Movewith Bill Paxton, or the similarly-neglected
Police Beat, about an African immigrant’s daily travails as a Seattle bicycle cop. Check out the young Scarlett Johannson kidnapping a lady to help her deliver her sister’s baby in Manny & Lo, or Holocaust survivor Ron Silver juggling three wives in post-WWII Brooklyn in Enemies, a Love Story. Remember, there are more movies at Videoport than you could see in a lifetime, so let two of our biggest movie nerds point out some hidden gems. (And remember, whichever shelf you choose from indicates which of us you like more!)
Tough and Triassic Tuesday. (Get one free rental from the Action or Classics sections with your paid rental.)
>>> Elsa S. Customer does not suggest How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying(in Musicals.) Every so often, I review one of Videoport’s rare VCR-only offerings (it’s VCRiffic!), usually a movie that inexplicably hasn’t been released on DVD. Well,
this one is available on DVD, but why Videoport hasn’t procured it is anything but inexplicable. I watched it — okay, tried to watch it — out of “Mad Men”-inspired curiosity: How To Succeed takes place in a bustling 1960s office strikingly similar in decor and social structure to MM’s Sterling-Cooper, and it exploits the same mores and double standards — and even stars an impish young Robert Morse (MM‘s shady sage, Bertram Cooper) as J. Pierpont Finch, the self-helping prodigy who skyrockets from window-washer to bigwig in short order. I figured that there’d be something to recommend here… but I couldn’t come up with a blasted thing. The acting is rigid, the singing weak, the score uninspired, and the comedy flat. Just watching the movie became a terrible slog, and even Morse’s Jerry-Lewis mugging couldn’t save it. About halfway through, we just plumb gave up. What I recommend instead, to give you a sense of the swingin’ sexism of the times: The Seven-Year Itch, The Apartment, Pillow Talk, and of course the inimitable “Mad Men.”
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 you use the super-awesome Videoport Wednesday special (4 movies for 7 days for 7 bucks) to take out an entire season of ‘Mad Men’ (in Feature Drama.) At a party, a friend asked me “So, I watched a coupla episodes of ‘Mad Men’and it seemed like a soap opera. What do you like about it?” I couldn’t give him a satisfactory off-the-cuff answer then, but I’ve been thinking
about it… kinda a lot. Allen, here’s your answer, or the first part of it, anyhow: I suppose that the chief story lines of “Mad Men” do superficially resemble a soap-style drama: [spoilers for the first two seasons! If you haven’t watched, you can safely skip this list] a secret identity, adultery, the appearance of a long-lost family member, a surprise pregnancy, two secret office affairs. [end spoilers] But MM delves far below the plot-driven soapiness of these devices, novelistically exploring the characters’ emotional lives and motives in a way you rarely see play out on TV. I’d compare it not to old-school evening soaps like “Dallas,” but to the great (and relatively recent) novelistic series like “The Wire” or “The Sopranos.” Like those shows, “Mad Men” presents us with real existential crisis, our anti-hero’s fear that life is nothing beyond the moment he’s living. And like those shows, MM gets better upon repeated viewings, which allow the viewer to notice subtle parallels in the characterizations and plotlines, images and metaphors that weave through the entire series (one obvious example: the reappearing motifs of cowboy and astronaut, which sums up the series’ tension between nostalgia and progress), and a staggering attention to wardrobe details, which are not only period-appropriate but are even subtly attuned to characters’ state of mind. (A simple example: when Joan wears purple, sorrow or vulnerability cannot be far away.) One of the biggest complaints about “Mad Men”— and I agree that it’s vexing — is the conspicuous absence of minority characters. Though the civil rights movement is peeping in around the edges, it’s still a very marginalized matter in the show. There are three arguments to make: 1) Matt Weiner et al. have consciously chosen to portray a very narrow slice of culture, including a focus on women’s challenges
this robustly chauvinistic world — and they have done so with a thoroughness and empathy that wrenches my heart. 2) Check out a few episodes of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” (in Mystery/Thriller) or most other 1960s anthology series (but notably not “The Twilight Zone,” (in Sci Fi/Fantasy) which routinely grappled with issues of social and political injustice) and you’ll see minority actors playing the same magically silent, blandly accommodating roles. The recurring African-American characters on “Mad Men” — the largely silent, pleasantly efficient attendants who open doors, empty ashtrays, and operate elevators — seem like a conscious recreation of (and a commentary on) the way actors of color appear in the era’s shows — and, presumably, the way minority servants and support staff were perceived by middle-class white audiences in real life. There’s a certain eerie meta-realism at work here. But the third argument is the one I’m hanging my hope on: 3) That quietly patient support system could grind to a halt any day now. When season 4 closed, our characters had reached autumn 1965: last year, MLK won the Nobel Peace Prize; LBJ recently signed the Voting Rights Act and an order promoting greater strides in affirmative action; the march on Montgomery was just this spring. Here’s hoping that MM‘s central characters start to see the effects of the civil rights movement more and more in their daily lives. We’ve already seen it weaving in around the edges, highlighting to the viewer the overwhelming white privilege that the characters don’t even know they are reaping. (Think of Paul Kinsey asking “Why can’t it wait?,” or Betty Draper blithely telling Carla, her African-American maid, that “Maybe now isn’t the right time,” or Peggy’s utter ignorance of a client’s racist hiring practices, which are so well-know that they’ve sparked a boycott. They don’t know because they don’t need to know: their obliviousness costs them nothing, and they simply do not see how deep-seated systematic racism benefits them as it oppresses others.) If Weiner can incorporate this ever-more-crucial piece of social history into his drama and present the challenges of racism as clearly, complexly, and poignantly as he has the challenges of sexism, “Mad Men” will catapult beyond “novelistic” or “great” and land squarely in “masterpiece” territory.
Thrifty Thursday. (Get one free movie from any section with your paid rental.)
>>>Dennis suggests ‘Bored to Death’(in Comedy.) I keep thinking there should be a specific word to describe what Jason Schwartzman does, an adjective to describe the essential [Schwartzmanitude? Schwartziness?] of his onsceen persona. There’s really nobody remotely like the guy- in movies like
Rushmore, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Funny People, I Heart Huckabees, Shopgirl, and this HBO series (where he plays a writer playing detective), Schwartzman’s characters are invariably a combination , in greater or lesser degrees, of the following: they’re smug and smarmy about their abilities, but seem, at the same time, acutely aware that they’re putting people on. They’re completely self-centered, yet possessed of great self-doubt. They proclaim complete straightforwardness while engaging in almost complete self-deception. He’s creepy and endearing in equal measure. You know what he reminds me of? Like Tom Cruise’s more neurotic little brother; he’s knows he’s short and kind of a megalomaniac, but he’s self-aware enough to play around with his own image (and, unlike Cruise, you generally don’t want to punch him in the face.) In ‘Bored to Death,’ JS is at his most Schwartzmanliest (hmm…) as writer Jonathan Ames, a semi-successful but writers blocked novelist/journalist who, for very Schwartzman-y reasons takes out a Craigslist ad as an unlicensed private eye and starts going on cases with the wary help of his comic nerd best friend Zach Galifianakis (great as always) and super-rich, super-bored boss Ted Danson (stealing every scene.) He tackles every case with a self-aware Schwartzmanitude, bumbling along, relying on his knowledge of detective fiction and film noir and his genially-befuddled ordinariness to carry the day. It’s sharply written by the real Jonathan Ames who created the show (and who, apparently, did do this stuff in real life, which is odd, since I never really cared for Ames’ actual writing (he comes across like a poor man’s Spalding Gray. And as for JS, he drifts through his character’s cases, and the show, with an impressively, and entertainingly Schwartzmanic aplomb. (And “Schwartzmanic” is the winner!)
Free Kids Friday. (Get one free rental from the Children’s or Family sections, no other rental necessary).
>>>Free kids movie. No other movie necessary. Dig it.
Having a Wild Weekend. (Rent two, get your third movie for free from any section on Saturday and Sunday.)
>>>For Saturday, Regan suggests A Wedding (in Classics.)
–“What the hell is that?”
-“That’s a glass of milk.”
–“Stuff will kill you.”
-“Doctor, you should know that the body is a temple of the holy spirit.”
–“You mean you don’t drink.”
–“In other words, when you get up in the morning, that’s as good as you’re gonna feel all day?”
>>>For Sunday, Elsa S. Customer suggests Manhattan (in Comedy.) Though it plays into so many of Woody Allen’s now-notorious failings, this movie has one of the great optimistic endings. (Note: I didn’t reveal whether it’s a happy ending, because I wouldn’t ruin a movie’s ending for you… but in Woody Allen movies, I’m not even sure the idea of “happy ending” applies.) Sometimes when I’m feeling a little blue, I think of Isaac (Woody himself, natch) lying on his sofa rambling into a tape recorder, listing the things that make life worth living. It’s such a believably random tumble of the mundane and the sublime, from Cezanne’s still lifes to a crab dish at his favorite Chinese restaurant, and it always brings a big smile to my face. Give yourself a big smile. Rent Manhattan.
New Releases this week at Videoport: Transformers: Dark of the Moon (BIG ROBOTS GO SMASH!!! AAAIIEEEEE!!!), Fast Five (Vin Diesel and Paul Walker bring The Rock [I mean Dwayne Johnson, of course] to beef up this fifth, count ’em fifth, Fast and the Furious sequel about the cars and going the fast in them), ‘Lie to Me’- season 3 (the ever-magnetic Tim Roth continues to elevate this ‘Mentalist’- style detective show with his little weirdo charisma), African Cats (Samuel L. Jackson narrates this stunningly-photographed nature documentary about, well, African cats, I’m guessing), Buck (everyone wants to see this documentary about real-life horse whisperer Buck Brannaman, so, well, here you go…), Scream 4 (Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox and the gang are all back on board in this sequel that asks the question, “is there anything left in the horror genre to be self-aware about?”), The Undefeated(did
Videoport only buy this shoddily-produced documentary/infomercial about historical footnote Sarah Palin for the giggles? Well, check the Incredibly Strange Section, where you’ll find it along with other right wing extravaganzas like Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed and An American Carol, to find out), The Red Chapel (comic documentary about a pair of Danish-Korean comedians pretending to be on a cultural exchange program to Korea, when they’re really making a documentary about how much they hate Korea- should be fun…), Phase 7 (Argentinian horror about a couple trying to stay alive inside a quarantined apartment building full o’ psychos), A Boyfriend for My Wife (Argentina again, this time a comedy about a guy trying to rid himself of his troublesome wife by hiring a notorious womanizer to seduce her; see, foreign countries make dumb romantic comedies just like us!), Amer(a French erotic thriller
about, well, I’ll just let the imdb tell it: “Three key moments, all of them sensual, define Ana’s life. Her carnal search sways between reality and colored fantasies becoming more and more oppressive. A black laced hand prevents her from screaming. The wind lifts her dress and caresses her thighs. A razor blade brushes her skin, where will this chaotic and carnivorous journey leave her?”…um, yeah, that’ll work), The Pee Wee Herman Show on Broadway (Pee Wee’s back!!!), Nothing Personal (intriguing-looking drama about a Dutch woman who gives everything she owns away, then hitchhikes across Ireland and meets a taciturn hermit [Stephen Rea]), Submarine (check to British Comedy section for this coming of age story about a 15 year old guy trying to 1. get laid, and 2. get his mom laid; directed by ‘The IT Crowd”s Richard Ayoade), The Hide (intense, oddball British thriller about an isolated bird researcher who befriends a bedraggled young man who stumbles into his remote cabin…and then things get twisty…), ‘The Hour’ (‘The Wire’‘s Dominic West [McNulty] stars in this gripping 1950s-set British newsroom series about BBC journalists investigating a government/espionage situation), Jeff Dunham: Controlled Chaos (everyone’s favorite, vaguely-racist ventriloquist has a new special!), ‘Bored to Death’- season 2(Jason Schwartzman, Zach Galifianakis, and Ted Danson return in this hilariously-deadpan HBO series about a struggling writer who decides to take on cases as
an unlicensed detective), ‘In Treatment’- season 3 (Gabriel Byrne is back in this HBO series about a dedicated shrink, with his own share of problems), ‘The League’- season 2 (great, improv-y comedy series about a gang of middle-aged friends staving off adulthood through their fantasy football league), ‘Prohibition’ (Ken Burns brings his documentary skills to bear on this examination of an utterly utterly-dimwitted chapter in our nation’s history.)
New Arrivals on Blu-ray this week at Videoport: African Cats, Scream 4, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Fast Five.
Videoport presents…ZOMBIE NIGHT!!
Come on out to the State Theatre on Halloween Night for a Videoport-sponsored double-zombie-feature of the original Dawn of the Dead followed by the brilliant, hilarious Shaun of the Dead! And, as a zombie palate-cleanser in between, we’ve got local zombie short “Last Call” by Christian and Sarah Matzke! Get your tickets for just $6 at Videoport in advance ($8 at the door!) Plus, a zombie costume contest will win some Videoport gift certificates for some lucky ghouls out there!