Volume CCCXXVII- National Lampoon’s Desperation Vacation
For the Week of 11/22/11
Videoport says Buy Local for the holidays! Like, say, at Videoport for example! (Brought to you from the ‘shameless plug’ department, but still fine advice…)
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 ‘Supernatural,’ for bold, network TV blasphemy! This is a surprisingly good show. I say ‘surprisingly’ since I avoided it for so long- the cover promised two blandly-hunky white guys playing ‘X Files,’ and being all white and hunky. But, when I finally caved in and watched the damned show, I gotta say, I was almost immediately impressed. Sure, there were some early growing pains of the ‘ill-conceived monster of the week’ nature, but, once the overarching continuity kicks in, the former Christian/current rational human being in me was titanically-tickled by the plot twist that gradually revealed that the show was engaged in some of the most gleefully-subversive Christianity-bashing any network has allowed on its soon-to-be-engulfed in-imaginary-flames airwaves. SPOILERS from now on. The ongoing plot hinges on the idea that, let’s see: god is absent, angels hate that humans took their place in absent god’s favor, angels are completely willing to manipulate, or even murder humans to get their way, Lucifer may have a point, angels who rebel against god and team with hunky humans may have a point, and more. It’s a really entertaining show in its own right, but, hey, blasphemy!
Tough and Triassic Tuesday. (Get one free rental from the Action or Classics sections with your paid rental.)
>>>Andy suggests Death Wish II and Death Wish 3 on one DVD (in Action/Adventure). The 1974 movie Death Wish, starring Charles Bronson as vigilante Paul Kersey, is a fun and well-made movie. It’s been called a “bastardization” of the anti-vigilantism Brian Garfield novel* on which it’s based, but it’s still suspenseful and a step above dumb. While the first Death Wishmovie at least attempted to be a thoughtful thriller, the sequels
are by-the-numbers revenge flicks. Luckily for me, I like those numbers! In the first movie, Kersey never meets the muggers who terrorized his family, he just takes out any mugger that comes his way. In the sequels, he targets individuals who have wronged him, and gets them. It’s simpler and easier, but still awfully satisfying. It’s like the Rocky movies (SPOILER ALERT for anyone who hasn’t seen the Rocky series): in the first Rocky, he proves his point just by putting up a good fight; in Rocky II, he gets to beat Apollo! Now imagine if Rocky had a gun, and someone kept raping Adrian. That’s Death Wish and Death Wish II. By Death Wish 3, Kersey’s entire family had been wiped out, so the movie had to introduce new characters to rape and kill so Kersey could avenge them. It’s less effective, but the formula still worked. Even as the sequels got worse and worse**, and the young-punk villains got more ridiculously over-the-top, Charles Bronson kept his cool onscreen, which really helped the movies. It often seemed like he’s not doing anything in a scene, just standing stiffly while the people around him overact hideously. Well, that’s his thing, and he pulls it off. Another thing I’ve noticed about the series is the casting of tiny roles with young actors who went on to much bigger things. The first movie featured Jeff Goldblum and Chistopher Guest; the second had Laurence Fishburne; the third had Alex Winter and Marina Sirtis; and the fourth had Danny Trejo and Mitch Pileggi. So each movie has a couple major “Wait… is that him/her?” moments, which adds to the fun (unless that future famous person is a rape victim, which just makes me feel bad). So, if you’ve seen Death Wish, give the sequels a shot (the first two sequels share a DVD in the Action section). They’re pretty standard exploitation movies, but Bronson is a cooler protagonist than most, and the musical scores by Jimmy Page*** are pretty rockin’.
*Brian Garfield wrote a sequel intended to clarify his stance on the subject of vigilante justice, Death Sentence, which James (Saw) Wan made into a very Death Wish-like movie in 2007. Garfield hasn’t had much luck in the movie business, I guess. He did write Hopscotch, though, which was made into a super-fun Walter Matthau movie (it’s in Videoport’s Criterion section).
**I’ve seen the first three sequels, and I think I can do without watching Death Wish V: The Face of Death.
***Really! Jimmy Page! And the first movie was scored by Herbie Hancock! 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 getting ready for Thanksgiving with some foody films. Why not indulge in a feast of food-focused films to whet your appetite? Start off with some delectable dishes: Babette’s Feast, Ratatouille, Tampopo, Julie& Julia, Big Night, Mostly Martha, Like Water for Chocolate. After that, if you’re looking for some more exotic and even repulsive fare, try The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, Her Lover, Delicatessen, Frenzy, Parents, or Dumplings. And if you wanna talk pie, there’s always Waitress, Twin Peaks, Mildred Pierce, and (I’m so sorry) American Pie.
>>>Former Videoporter Stockman suggests ‘Veronica Mars’(in Feature Drama.) It’s always a hoot when
your friend breaks up with someone you thought was a douche, because then you can unleash an onslaught of judgmental trash talk. And who doesn’t love judging! I sure do! Don’t know what I mean? Write something for the Videoreport! Seriously, it’s wicked fun. A similar enjoyment can occur when your friend “breaks up” with a show you thought was kinda shi**y. Granted, this is less enjoyable when you’re on the receiving end of said judgment but it is nice to utilize as a truth finding tool. I remember when my zealous devotion to Buffy abated. There were friends who were finally free to share their true dislike without fear of being slapped. I still love Buffy, but it no longer causes blind rage to hear the issues some people had with the show. I can have an intelligent discourse on its strengths and weaknesses* knowing that it’s not a show for everyone**. All of this to share the satisfaction one feels when, years after your fanatic obsession subsides, you discover that the true feelings floating around are in fact “that show is awesome”. Such is the case with Veronica Mars. Friends of all shapes, sizes, preferences, and opinions admit (whether it be grudgingly or enthusiastically) this show is phenomenal. Even Joss Whedon loves this show- find him appearing as a guest star in the second season. He reviewed the show in EW, “Last year, Veronica Mars’ best friend was murdered. Some months later, she was drugged at a party and raped in her sleep. Welcome to the funniest and most romantic show on TV.” The show is exactly layered and nuanced enough to handle the many disparate themes, as Joss put “Everyone shifts, betrays, reveals — through their surprising humor as well as their flaws.” Cult classic Arrested Development knew it as well, with stars Michael Cera and Alia Shawkat (Maeby) appearing in the same episode. The show is defined by its remarkably rich characters and the detailed web of relationships that surround Veronica, including the greatest father-daughter relationship ever seen on television. Ever. Not to mention enough BFF power and heart wrenching passionate romance to make even the hardest heart swoon. Want a window into the cast and crew that pulled this show together, all you have to do is see the Videoport Jones praised show Party Down, also from creator Rob Thomas. Adam Scott and Jane Lynch guest starred in an episode, Ryan Hansen is a cast regular, and the always hilariously awesome Ken Marino is a reoccurring guest star. Plus Party Down guest stars included our lead heroine Kristen Bell (also fingers crossed someday my girlfriend that everyone will love and never need to trash talk), her father Enrico Colantoni, and the “obligatory psychotic jack-ass” (Veronica Mars’ words, not mine) Jason Dohring. Seriously, watch this show, it’s one of the best, everyone knew it and from the countless times I’ve recommended it I have yet to hear otherwise.
*Editor’s note: Buffy has no weaknesses.
**Editor’s note: yes it is.
Thrifty Thursday. (Get one free movie from any section with your paid rental.)
>>>Elsa S. Customer suggests a movie menu for Thanksgiving dinner. What’s better than a turkey? A big platter of “Robot Chicken” with plenty of The Stuff[ing]! On the side, try a scoop of Sweet and Lowdown-potato casserole topped with Forgetting Sarah Marshall-mallows, some M*A*S*Hed potatoes (but I’d skip the I Spit on your Grave-y if I were you), a big dish of “Mr. Bean” topped with The Onion, and a bit of Crank-berry sauce. Of course, we’ll finish up with a serving of Pi, then settle in for The Big Sleep.
Free Kids Friday. (Get one free rental from the Children’s or Family sections, no other rental necessary).
>>>Elsa S. Customer suggests Chicken Run. Big doings are afoot (and afeather) at the Tweedy chicken farm. Ginger, a flighty hen who’s escaped and been recaptured several times, hopes to persuade the other chickens to fly the coop en masse. Meanwhile, the sinister Mrs. Tweedy has hatched a scheme to shift their production from eggs to — duh duh DUH — chicken pies. Mind you, I’m not intentionally recommending this as a secret plot to turn your kids abruptly vegetarian just in time for a big poultry-consuming (and big-poultry consuming) holiday — but, uh, there is that possibility. The characters and story of Chicken Run are as compelling as the classic films it alludes to so fluently (including such greats as Stalag 17, The Great Escape, and Raiders of the Lost Ark). As Roger Ebert remarks, “This movie about chickens is more human than many formula comedies.”
Having a Wild Weekend. (Rent two, get your third movie for free from any section on Saturday and Sunday.)
>>>For Saturday, Videoport customer suggests 3 Backyards (in Feature Drama.) 3 Backyards is the full-length sophomore effort from independent filmmaker Eric Mendelsohn, highlighting an eleven year gap between films for an artist of integrity and an instinctive regard for the intuitive nature of film making’s poetic capabilities. Hopefully, its not such a cautionary tale anymore, with the explosion of digital video democratizing a sad field of American “art house” cinemas so long dominated by fine works of art (such as Ang Lee’s for example) that would have counted as a major studio’s token prestige picture in previous decades (Ordinary People for example). His debut effort, Judy Berlin, was a well regarded black-and-white slice of life that merged the mundane and the magical in a similarly low-key style, with it’s velvet imagery dulling the edge of the wicked wit often at play. It also featured the grand talents of Edie Falco, the tremendously appealing star of Nurse Jackie and The Sopranos in a well deserved leading role. Judy Berlin, his debut, displayed much more of a likeness to one of Mendelsohn’s mentors, Woody Allen in it’s nebbishy style. Though 3 Backyards is something else entirely, very much an increasingly rare example of an American filmmaker coming into his own and finding a unique voice…ironic humor still in place, but tempered with something darker yet more reflective. With 3 Backyards Mendelsohn has elected to tell three short stories, in alternating parts, with an eye towards Todd Solondz re-imagining the lyrical French nature documentary Microcosmos…a unique task to say the least. The magic is that the stories themselves are so mundane and the devil (so to speak) is in the details. A bored and curious housewife called Peggy (Falco) drives a melancholy new neighbor, a female actress of some note, played witholdingly by the icy/mysterious Embeth Davidtz (of Schindler’s List/In Treatment/Junebug) fame, to her destination at a ferry’s embankment. A lonely salary man named John (Elias Koteas of The Adjuster and TMNT fame) misses his flight (a banal business trip of little note) and elects to wander his suburban environment as a ghost (off the radar) and gain an understanding of what he is missing. His observations of the smaller moments in life and his witnessing of the travails of an immigrant woman tyring to find simple work provide the difficult to grasp key to the loss of his emotional well-being. And the third, and most provocative, yet mystical of the tales focuses on a little girl who finds herself unable to concentrate at school as she becomes preoccupied with the fate of a missing poodle she sees signs for posted all around the neighborhood. She finds herself in grave danger and in unwanted adult situations unsupervised by the appropriate surveyors of such misdeeds and must use her own instincts to navigate the difficult waters she has immersed herself in. The number of adult issues on display in Mendelsohn’s film are manifold. Pedophilia, race, adultery, obsession, guilt and celebrity culture/worship are all addressed at various times, which is why it seems to recall the work of Todd Solondz in multiple ways. But it is notably different in the strangely gentle and haunting way it addresses the topics it raises. He’s not really poking or prodding for a quick result but exploring the interior layers in order to gain a greater understanding of what makes people do the things they do and come to a compassionate reconciliation of why they participate in the systems that they inevitably play a role in. Unlike Mendelsohn’s debut feature, Judy Berlin, 3 Backyards is shot in color and often soft focus, unlike the black and white eclipse time captured in the former…a more mysterious and slightly more ambiguous mood is captured in a sense. The movie is beautifully stylized and never less than mesmerizing, gorgeously photographed in a effortlessly dreamy style so it’s sometimes difficult messages go down easily as if in a half-remembered reverie that seemed to be telling you something important but wouldn’t quite come out and say it. The music is often atonal and plays well with the strange imagery, casting almost all the mostly mundane encounters observed during daily activities in an unusual light well worth revisiting. The performances are exquisite all around. Falco and Davidtz subtly handling a brittle duet filled with gentle, minor notes that could have quickly become unpleasant in an explicit manner. Koteas (a veteran of supreme Canadian art house creep and master of difficult materials Atom Egoyan) manages to find the soul of a confused man who’s behavior could only be called deeply suspicious at best and Rachel Resheff (as the little girl) does exactly what she is called upon to do with no extraneous mugging (to be a little girl and curious, that is). The title 3 Backyards seems to provide a key to understanding why the director has chosen to tell these three stories and tell them together in this fashion. My interpretation would have to be that he understands that most people secretly want to know what is going on their neighbors backyards and bedrooms but know they cannot come out and ask…so all sorts of sneaky methods and mythologies are arrived at for exploring these strange thoughts. A tricky thing to admit possibly, but nothing really at the end of the day.
>>>For Sunday, Elsa S. Customer suggests Blue Velvet (in Feature Drama.) In the ’80s, many critics lambasted Lynch’s film as misogynistic, overtly carnal, and downright weird; at a distance of almost 25 years, it’s easier to see Blue Velvet as a blistering indictment of the Reagan era’s false veneer of wholesomeness rigidly enforced in the name of “family values.” I recently watched Blue Velvet in all its eerie, noir-y anxiety with Videoport’s Own Regan. Because we’ve both seen it plenty of times, we kept up a pretty steady patter of chit-chat and snark throughout most of the film… but not when Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper in one of his most enduring and iconic roles) was on-screen. Whenever Frank appeared, we both lapsed into an uneasy hush. Say what you will about the movie (and admittedly its most intense scenes are still strikingly hard to watch), Frank Booth remains one of cinema’s most electrifying, horrific, over-the-top screen villains.
New Releases This Week at Videoport: Super 8 (J.J. Abrams directs this 1979-set Spielbergian sci fi adventure about a gaggle of small town kids trying to warn people about something creepy that’s escaped form a crashed train car), Conan the Barbarian(while it’s a shame for chunk-headed star Jason Momoa that this remake of the Schwarzenegger sword-and-sorcery actioner didn’t catch on, at least he will never have to star in
a Kindergarten Cop remake), The Devil’s Double (British actor Dominic Cooper stars both as Saddam Hussein’s creep/playboy/dirtbag son Uday and the poor sap forced to impersonate him in dangerous situations in this drama that, I suppose, was needed…), Sarah’s Key (British actress Kristin Scott Thomas continues to parlay her bilnguality into a successful career in acclaimed French dramas [I’ve Loved You So Long, Leaving] with her role as a present-day journalist discovering a dark secret about a sixty year old Nazi massacre), Spy Kids 4: All in the Family (Robert Rodriguez keeps making sequels to this kid-friendly action comedy series; whatever makes him happy…), Margaret Cho: Cho Dependent (a new standup special from everybody’s favorite bisexual, Asian-American oversharer!), Shot by Kern (underground experimental filmmaking legend Richard Kern apparently spends his time now videotaping offbeat young women all over the world with their clothes off; not criticizing, just sayin’…), Dirty Pictures (documentary about Alexander Sasha Shulgin, legendary outlaw chemist and inventor of, among other psychedelic things, ecstasy.)
New Arrivals This Week at Videoport: Prep and Landing (Disney holiday fare about a pair of ninja-like Santa’s elves! Look for it in the Videoport holiday movie section in the middle aisle), Unsinkable Molly Brown (Debbie Reynolds brings her traditional pep to this musical biopic of the irrepressible nouveau riche Texas gal who, among other things, survived the sinking of the Titanic [Kathy Bates played her in the movie]), Leningrad Cowboys Go America, Leningrad Cowboys Meet Moses, Leningrad Cowboys Total Balilaika (from the movie masters at Criterion some this triple feature from Finnish directorial legend Aki Kaurismaki chronicling the eccentric adventures of the titular struggling Siberian rock band.)
New Arrivals on Blu-Ray this week at Videoport: Super 8, Conan the Barbarian (2011.)
Breaking, internet-only news for nerds! Check out the new, nerdy, popcultural comedy blog from Videoport’s Dennis and former Press Herald/current Harvard journalist Justin Ellis “Brannigan’s Law”!
(Including a recent article on the return of ‘Arrested Development’ and the way in which that otherwise great news caused Dennis to nearly punch his hand through a wall!)