VideoReport #324

Volume CCCXXIV- Paul Blart: RoboCop

For the Week of 11/1/11

Videoport gives you a free movie every day. We just weren’t sure if you knew that 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 ‘Supernatural’ (in Sci Fi/Fantasy.) I’m gonna tell you the truth: when we started with Season 1, I had pleasantly low expectations for “Supernatural,”the story of two brothers

Minions of hell, beware our hunkiness!

who drive to and fro across America in their muscle car, hunting demons and listening to classic rock. I thought we might get some half-decent ghost stories and urban legends played out with mild humor by two pretty-boy actors of middling skill. I certainly didn’t expect to LOVE this series, to look forward to each new episode with bubbling glee, to look forward to the developing relationship between two brothers. I ain’t sayin’ it The Best Series Ever, but Supernatural is deliciously enjoyable, well-crafted entertainment and I CANNOT GET ENOUGH OF IT. If you start with Season 1, Episode 1, be advised that the series starts out a bit choppy: loud and silly with a heavy-handed reliance on jittery freeze-and-zoom shots that try to stand in for real suspense. But the show finds its feet pretty quickly, and the two leads work beautifully and believably as brothers, bringing some much-needed credibility to the incredible events they encounter. I was so busy watching Sensitive Brother Sam (Jared Padalecki) for signs of Real Acting that the serious acting chops of BadAss Brother Dean (Jensen Ackles) kinda snuck up on me. He’s especially gifted at balancing comedy and suspense, a tricky task that the show delivers surprisingly frequently and with surprising finesse.

Tough and Triassic Tuesday. (Get one free rental from the Action or Classics sections with your paid rental.)

>>>Andy suggests Andy suggests Island of Lost Souls (in the Criterion section). Thanks to the folks at Criterion, let’s all remember one of the best of the early ’30s horror classics, Island of Lost Souls, the first movie adaptation of H.G. Wells’ Island of Dr. Moreau. Maybe it’s not as Halloween-y as Dracula,

Bela: "Are we not men?" Me: "Umm, sure, why not..."

Frankenstein, or, hell, even The Mummy, but this is real horror for real horror fans. The plot is simple: a shipwrecked man is an unwanted intruder on an uncharted island somewhere in some ocean. The island belongs to Dr. Moreau (Charles Laughton*), a renegade doctor who surgically alters animals so that they resemble humans. The bland hero discovers what Moreau is up to and tries to put a stop to it. That’s it for plot, but there are some serious ideas here. What makes us human? Why are we so special that we can inflict pain on other species? Is humanity the ultimate achievement of evolution? Island of Lost Souls, in my opinion, is similar to, but more thought provoking than James Whale’s Frankenstein from the year before. Plus, this movie has Bela Lugosi, still recognizable under some weird hair and makeup, as the Sayer of the Law (“Are we not men?”). But the movie belongs to Charles Laughton. He commands attention in a surprisingly un-hammy way. Laughton is chilling as the calm, clean-cut, polite and monstrously evil Dr. Moreau. Viewers familiar with his later performances in Witness for the Prosecution (1957) and Spartacus (1960) might be as startled as I was by how damn good he is in Island of Lost Souls. Contrasted against his grotesque human/animal creations, his smooth, doughy face exposes humanity as capable of incredible coldness and evil.

*The role of Moreau was played by Burt Lancaster in the 1977 remake, and by an incredibly hammy Marlon Brando in the 1996 version.

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 diving into the documentary greatness of Errol Morris. With the releases of his new film Tabloid this week, Errol Morris continues to use the documentary form to illuminate the world in the most unique and revelatory way possible. From the start, Morris has chosen singular, often-quirky stories and individuals and, through his signature interview and filmmaking styles, turned them into absolutely spellbinding works of art. You can’t go wrong with a single one of these (all in the Documentary section):

Gates of Heaven. In his first film, Morris set his sights on the seemingly-insignificant world of those who run and frequent pet cemeteries- and turned it into one of the most mysteriously-moving films I’ve ever seen.

Vernon, Florida. When Morris turns his patented interview techniques on the genuinely-odd residents of the titular town, we get an insightfully-hilarious collection of concentrated oddball-ery to rival David Byrne’s (fictional) True Stories.

The Thin Blue Line. Morris took his cameras to the decidedly-sketchy murder conviction of a Texas man, and proved that the American justice system isn’t always as upright as it seems, when someone’s watching. As exciting as any Hollywood thriller.

A Brief History of Time. Morris’ portrait of famous physicist Stephen Hawking skillfully intercuts the man’s theories of gravity and the universe with the details of the man’s life.

Fast, Cheap and Out of Control. What do a topiary gardener, a lion tamer, a robot designer, and an expert on the naked mole rat have in common? It seems like nothing, at first, until Morris’ ingenious editing brings each man’s story together into something spellbinding.

Mr Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr. A squirrelly little electrician who designs electric chairs in his spare time gets involved in the Holocaust denier movement; Morris’ investigating cameras have never had so elusive a subject.

‘First Person.’ Using his patented ‘interrotron’ interviewing device, Morris allows a series of outre subjects to tell their stories in this TV series. If all ‘reality TV’ were like this, the country would be much, much smarter.

The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert McNamara. The former secretary of defense during Vietnam is brought into sharp focus by Morris, the now-aged man’s assertions about warfare, JFK, and the Cold War sounding alternately (or perhaps concurrently) perfectly rational and like something out of Dr. Strangelove.

Standard Operating Procedure. The Abu Ghraib prison torture and abuse of suspected terrorists by US troops, in the hands of lesser filmmakers (like, say, Michael Moore) might come off like ‘preaching to the choir’ agitprop. In Morris’ hands, this notorious chapter in US military history is brought into proper, and utterly convincing, historical context.

Thrifty Thursday. (Get one free movie from any section with your paid rental.)

>>>Dennis suggests Batman: Year One(in Animation.) DC Comics’ animation department does a solid job in adapting Frank Miller’s brilliant, seminal Batman origin graphic novel with this faithful, smart movie version, smartly letting the original text (and a nice approximation of original artist David

That is NOT Batman...

Mazzucchelli’s style) do most of the heavy lifting. This stripped-down, “realistic” depiction of the fledgeling Batman’s early adventures always appealed to me and this animated version doesn’t screw things up…with one glaring exception. The voice cast is fine (‘Breaking Bad’‘s Bryan Cranston makes a very solid Jim Gordon), except for, wait for it, BATMAN!??! Prettyboy actor Ben McKenzie (from ‘The O.C.’?!?!) is utterly unconvincing as Bruce Wayne/Batman; his growly voice sounds like something you’d find in a low-rent Batman video game. His whole performance is just so ill-conceived that it undercuts what otherwise is a fine little movie. I don’t mean to be a jerk, but if you’re making a Batman movie of any kind, you probably want to make sure you get the Batman right, don’t you?

Free Kids Friday. (Get one free rental from the Children’s or Family sections, no other rental necessary).

>>>Elsa S. Customer suggests Dumbo for some good old-fashioned nightmare fuel. There’s already plenty of problematic imagery and narrative in Disney’s 1941 Dumbo: taunting of the non-normative baby elephant, troubling racist caricatures, hardcore drunkenness

Can't sleep. Elephants'll eat me. Can't sleep. Elephants'll eat me...

of a childlike character, creepy circus cruelty. And then Disney threw in the Pink Elephants on Parade sequence, which is WHAT THE HECK honest-to-goodness nightmare fuel. Dumbo and his mouse friend Timothy guzzle down some champagne-tincted water and get predictably sozzled, which gives them DT-like visions of pink elephants. At first, the sequence is colorful and amusing, but it keeps spiraling and spiraling up, accumulating frenetic energy, and those phantom elephants keep turning their hollow eye sockets screenward, and the music keeps building, and MAKE IT STOP MOMMY I DON’T LIKE THEM.

Having a Wild Weekend. (Rent two, get your third movie for free from any section on Saturday and Sunday.)

>>>For Saturday, Elsa S. Customer suggests giving a neglected character actor another chance. You know who’s funny? Tom Cavanagh. I said, Tom Cavanagh. …No, Cavanagh. TOM CAVANAGH. Oh, you know him, he was in… um. Well, I’ve been listening to Mike and Tom Eat Snacks,

Will be funny for food...

the podcast where Mike (-ael Ian Black) and Tom (Cavanagh) get together and, well, you see where this is going. [spoiler alert: they eat snacks.] And in listening to it, I learned that Tom Cavanagh A) is HILARIOUS; B) is the ideal foil for the much-too-much that is Michael Ian Black. And then I started reflecting: to whom is Tom Cavanagh not a good foil? This guy is awesome: funny, charming but not smarmy, endearing, handsome but in a way that does not stretch credulity, quick-witted, and with a welcome Everyman quality. So why is this guy not a giant star? You can see him in “Ed”* (with Julie Bowen, the blandly blonde romantic-interest delivery device now making serious “Modern Family” money), in a recurring guest role as J.D.’s wastrel brother on “Scrubs,” in (I’m so sorry, Tom) Yogi Bear, and in the rightfully-little-seen hospital-horror timewaster Sublime. People, this is sad. We need to start a petition or something.

*Editor’s note: proving Ms. Customer’s point, “Ed” isn’t even on DVD yet. Get that petition started…

>>>For Sunday, Former Videoporter Stockman suggests MUPPETS! I’m scared far too easy and I don’t like it one bit! Perhaps you need some help recovering from the spooky trauma that is Halloween, like I most certainly would if I were ever willing to watch a scary movie. My comforting recovery of choice, Muppets. And by Muppets, I mean classic Jim Henson fueled Muppets. Enjoy the Dennis favorite The Muppet Movie to hear his favorite line “A pig that goes bananas, what is this a luau?” Try my cousin Susan’s favorite The Great Muppet Caper, at 25 the sheer genius of a frog and a bear being twin brothers still reduces her to crazed giggle fits! Not to even mention the thrill of watching Charles Grodin in a haze of lusty adoration for Miss Piggy. Or my brother and I’s favorite The Muppets Take Manhattan, a non-stop ride of quotable brilliance! Discover the peoples is peoples and jell-o-pants philosophies of life, learn the delectable use of Baffo-Sacko as an adjective, and most importantly discover the consequences of giving people the huggies from Gregory Hines. But wait, it doesn’t stop there! Maybe you’re tired of the Muppet movies, and that’s okay! You could try Follow That Bird to remember life when Elmo was “waving good bye monster in the background” and see a reenactment of the crop dusting scene from North by Northwest! Or perhaps Fraggle Rock is more towards your tastes. Rediscover a show that was created because Jim Henson wanted to encourage world peace. The entire world was made to show symbiotic relationships! Or you could pick up a disc or two of The Muppet Show, though many Muppets are found in the cost effective kids section, The Muppet Show was actually originally made for an adult prime time audience to off-set the kid friendly audience of Sesame Street. The best of the Muppet Show DVD’s gave us such gems as John Cleese who helped write his episode where he contractually refuses to work with pigs! Try Gilda Radner who taps her troubles away,  Peter Sellers who plays tuned chickens, Gene Kelly who refuses to be a guest at all, or Marty Feldman as Scheherazade who tells stories to the Swedish Chef as sultan! Any way you view it, the Muppets will comfort you with their pure, honest and hilarious absurdity!

New Releases This Week at Videoport: Cars 2 (by all accounts, PIXAR’s incredible streak of nearly flawless children’s films came to an end with this loud, middling sequel that relies too much on thoroughly-unfunny, vaguely-bigoted comic Larry the Cable Guy’s dumb towtruck character; I view this as a learning experience which will ensure PIXAR’s next movie returns to greatness), Water for Elephants(Reese

I'm just saying, Ryan, howsabout I play the sexy bachelor this time?

Witherspoon and that Twilight guy cuddle up with each other and some pachyderms in this period romance set in a traveling circus), Crazy, Stupid Love (Steve Carell and current “hottest actor on the planet” Ryan Gosling team up in this comedy/drama about a mild mannered husband and father [guess who plays that role] who turns to his swinging bachelor friend [again, guess who] for advice on navigating single waters), ‘Californication’- season 4 (David Duchovny’s inner sleaze continues to come out and play in this series about a libertine author’s sexual escapades in La-La Land), Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (director Wayne Wang [who always gets mentioned as ‘the director of The Joy Luck Club,’ but should be more well known for the excellent Smoke] brings us this generational tale of two separated sisters who leave each other secret messages on the titular ornate fan), Hot Coffee (remeber that ady who sued because her McDonald’s coffee was “too hot” and burned her while she was driving with it perched between her legs? Well, this documentary makes the case that her [and many other] so-called “frivolous lawsuits” actually have merit until corporations spend millions of dollars to spin the tale in their favor), Trespass(Nicholas

This is just Ron Perlman on his day off...

Cage and Nicloe Kidman play a wealthy couple whose vicious home invasion drama involves more than a few twists, turns, and possible over-the-top banana-cakes acting from Mr. Cage), Bunraku (hyper, loopy action starring Josh Hartnet as a guy out for revenge, someone named Gacky as a ninja, Woody Harrelson as a wisecracking bartender, Demi Moore as an evil lady boss, and Ron Perlman beating people up a lot), Pearl Jam 20 (like Pearl Jam? Well, this career-spanning documentary/concert thingy is right up your street), ‘Luther’- season 2 (‘The Wire”s uber-awesome Idris Elba returns [with his real accent] in this edgy BBC detective series about Elba’s tormented super-cop), Magic Trip (Stanley Tucci narrates this rollicking documentary about the chemically-aided cross-country bus trip of Ken Kesey and his band of Merry Pranksters), Wintervention (ski season is on the way- here’s some Warren Miller to get you hyped up), Tabloid (Errol Morris is the greatest documentarian in cinema history- he just is. So check out his new one, a typically-thorny and fascinating character study of a former beauty queen who kidnapped her Mormon lover in order, she says, to rescue him from his cult-like religious brethren by chaining him to a bed and sexing the religion right out of him), His Way (Hollywood superproducer Jerry Weintraub gets the star-studded, The Kid Stays in the Picture-style documentary), The Last Mountain (it’s huge, land-raping corporations vs. people who aren’t so much into land-rape in this documentary about a mining company attempting to force itself on the last great mountain in Appalachia), The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema (oddball philosopher/genius Slavoj Zizek takes you on a tour through his picks for the best movies of all time in this necessarily-fascinating documentary), Wrong Turn 4 (killer mutant rednecks vs. nubile hikers, round four!), ‘Garrow’s Law’- season 2 (Andrew Buchan plays the real-life William Garrow, the 18th century barrister who introduced that whole “innocent until proven guilty” idea to the British court system in this BBC mystery series), ‘Inspector Lewis’ (since the Videoport faithful can’t seem to get enough of British people murdering each other, then arresting each other, we’re bringing in ten, count ’em 10, discs worth of this acclaimed, long-running BBC detective series!), We Live in Public (much-requested documentary about Josh Harris, the internet pioneer who, among other things, created an underground bunker in NYC where 100 people spent the last 30 days of the millennium having their every moment broadcast online.)

New Arrivals This Week at Videoport: Ivanhoe (Elizabeth Taylor!, Joan Fontaine!, the unrelated Robert Taylor!, knights!, jousting!, all that jazz!), Treasure Island (Charlton Heston!, little Christian Bale!, Christopher Lee!, Oliver Reed!, peglegs!, yaaarrrrr!)

New Arrivals on Blu-Ray This Week at Videoport: Trespass, Gremlins, Cars 2, Crazy Stupid Love.


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