Volume CCCXXXI- It’s a Wonderful Miracle Carol on 34th Street
For the Week of 12/22/11
Videoport reminds you that Videoport gift certificates make great holiday gifts! And, if you’re reading this after the 25th, Videoport also reminds you that Videoport gift certificates make great “I’m sorry I forgot to get you a gift” gifts!
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 a paranoid Christmas double-feature: Three Days of the Condor and The
Conversation (both in Mystery/Thriller.) The great political thrillers of the 1970s classically feature a loner facing off against a vast web of unknown powers. What could possibly make this scenario even more alienating and desolate? How about a loner fending off a hostile cabal, all while the merry bustle of the holiday season goes on around him? In Three Days of the Condor, nerdy government researcher Joe Turner (Robert Redford) stumbles upon a secret plot that leaves him scrambling just to stay alive on the brisk and busy streets of New York, while festivity and frivolity carries on all around. In Francis Ford Coppola’s haunting The Conversation, master surveillance artist Harry Caul (Gene Hackman in perhaps his finest performance) grapples with his own long-standing paranoia as well as a burgeoning sense of guilt and unease — but simultaneously tackles the purely practical problems of eavesdropping on subjects as they weave their way through a busy crowd of carolers and shoppers. At a time when so many are celebrating togetherness, our protagonists are more alone than ever.
Tough and Triassic Tuesday. (Get one free rental from the Action or Classics sections with your paid rental.)
>>>Dennis suggests It’s a Wonderful Life (in Classics/the Holiday Movie Section.) You cannot resist it- and it’s actually much better, and much darker, than you remember.
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!)
>>>Former Videoporter Stockman suggests The Ref and While You Were Sleeping(in Comedy.)
Videoport Jones is an admitted loather of Christmas! And I get it! Christmas can be stressful. But that’s because people aren’t seeing Christmas through the same red and green rainbow happiness tinsel glitter blinking crack glasses of love that I’m seeing Christmas through! Seriously, Christmas turns me into a unicorn child on speed and I love it! And you! Because its Christmas, the season of non-denominational peace and love and Santa and magic! CHRISTMAS CHRISTMAS CHRISTMAS CHRISTMAS CHRISTMAS CHRISTMAS CHRISTMAS CHRISTMAS! Which is why I would be happy to recommend you a double feature of Christmas joy! A gigantic gracious Christmas nod to Glynis Johns for being the defining link that brings together two of my favorite pieces of Christmas fluff: The Ref and While You Were Sleeping! See the two sides of her matron figure: the evil vindictive mother in The Ref and the adorable flaky mother in While You Were Sleeping. You may know Glynis as the Mom from Mary Poppins. I know Glynis from her super smokin’ hottie young Hollywood starlet photos my Google Image search just displayed. I just watched both of these this week and found it oddly comforting to see a movie featuring answering machines and phones with…wait for it…chords! Real chords! So pleasant! Dennis Leary’s knack for sarcastic fury and Christine Baranski’s dripping Mom sarcasm make for an evilly enjoyable snark that takes the edge off The Ref’s Christmas fluffiness. Plus Kevin Spacey at his best which I think is when he plays average Joe’s bottling so many bitter emotions you just can’t help but watch for when they explode. Delicious! And…um…While You Were Sleeping’s…um…sarcasm…yeah, I got nothing. It’s a romantic comedy with Sandra Bullock, I like it BECAUSE it’s fluffy. Guaranteed to feature her falling down! Which since it takes place at Christmas is guaranteed to include ice! Oh ice, thanks for giving us so many movie pratfalls.
Thrifty Thursday. (Get one free movie from any section with your paid rental.)
>>> Elsa S. Customer suggests you check out Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer (in the Holiday movies section- but not for the reason you think…) The classic stop-motion animation Christmas special “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” sells itself as a paean to acceptance and tolerance of non-conformity. It’s a noble message indeed — and one that deserves more than the scant lip service the Rankin-Bass production pays it, as a close reading of the show proves. When Rudolph is born with his festive red nose, there’s not a hint of acceptance or excitement, but a heavy blanket of stubborn repression. Within moments of Rudolph birth, Mrs. Donner embraces denial: “Well, we’ll simply have to overlook it.” Deeply entrenched in this draconian regime of conformity, Donner quickly works up a plan to hide his son’s distinctive attribute. (In a subtle remark on the distancing effect of familial rejection, Mrs. Donner cuddles Rudolph to her bosom for just a moment before his fake nose pops off, suggesting that future affections in the Donner family will be wary and hesitant moments at best.) Donner’s makeshift solution (which, the narration tells us, Rudolph suffers for years) not only disguises Rudolph’s natural appearance but also smothers his natural voice, a metaphor too powerful to overlook. Donner privileges his own reputation over Rudolph’s identity and dignity. As he reapplies the mud to Rudolph’s nose, he desperately growls, “Santa can’t object to you now!” But Donner is wrong. Santa’s ability to object is overwhelming: he rails against a song of devotion composed by his elves, he complains about the weather (AT THE NORTH POLE, Y’ALL), and after acknowledging that the newborn Rudolph is clever and handsome, he undermines all his compliments by rebuking him for his ambition to serve as Santa’s pack mule. “Every year I shine up my slavebells sleighbells for eight lucky reindeers.” Here are your shackles, slave: how lucky you are to wear them. That’s right: Santa’s self-centeredness is so complete that he believes the lithe, lissome creatures who drag his massive sleigh, the incalculable weight of a world’s worth of toys, and Santa’s own not-inconsiderable bulk are lucky. Let’s examine Santa’s role in the Rankin-Bass universe. [Note: Let’s be clear, here. The supposed Santa of the Rankin-Bass specials is NOT, I repeat, NOT an accurate portrayal of Santa Claus. The real Santa is a jolly old elf, a kindly and venerable fellow who brings great joy to children and adults alike. Please direct your complaints the the estates of Mr. Rankin and Mr. Bass. Frankly, I think Santa should sue for character defamation.] Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeerquickly establishes him as the overlord of this isolated state: in the very first scene, we learn that the North Pole is a vast wasteland ruled over by its “Number One Citizens,” Mr. and Mrs. Claus. They live in palatial grandeur in the “first castle on the left — matter of fact, the only castle on the left.” Ahahahaha, unbalanced distribution of wealth is hilarious! Of course Santa is wealthy! All year long, he exploits the labor of a racial underclass. Like the reindeer, the elves are apparently born into slavery: they work almost without stop to produce an endless stream of toys, which Santa whisks away with no thanks or acknowledgement. And who gets the glory, the eons of fame, and the adoration of children? Santa, of course! When one brave elf has the self-respect to stand up for his own dreams and desires, he is soundly ridiculed by his superior and peers alike and consigned to the workbench while the other elves frolic in their brief respite from the assembly line. Our snowman guide’s only comment on this brutally enforced serfdom to Santa? “Oh, well, such is the life of an elf!” Hermey only wants to better himself, gain and education, and learn a professional trade to escape the ranks of servitude to which his heritage has confined him. But in this restrictive regime, he must throw off not only the comforts of community but even the safety of his home. At the same moment, Rudolph is facing the shame of uncloaking his hidden identity to his peer group. Just as the derision reaches its peak, with even Rudolph’s father joining in, Santa steps in. “Donner, you should be ashamed of yourself!” For a moment, the nonconformist’s heart leaps; surely Santa is about to deliver a speech of understanding and individuality! But no. Santa dresses down Donner for his chicanery, and in an aside he utterly rejects Rudolph. “What a pity. He had a nice take-off, too.” Santa lets his bigoted worldview deprive him of a worker of obvious skill and prowess. Is it any surprise that our unorthodox protagonists prefer to take their chances on the snowy wilds rather than suffering a lifetime of their homeland’s continual shaming? As they sing at their first meeting, “Why am I such a misfit?/ I am not just a nit-wit!*/ They can’t fire me; I quit!/ Since I don’t fit in.” (*Note that even Hermey and Rudolph, who are so bitterly rejected for their deviance from the rigid and demanding norm, gleefully deride those whom they view as lesser-than or other-than, just because they can.) When Rudolph, now grown to buckhood, returns to Christmastown, Santa tells him that his parents and his sweetheart Clarice have been wandering the icy wastes for months. “And I’m very worried!” Santa adds. Worried for their welfare? Worried because the ice-bound badlands of the arctic pose many
dangers? No, worried because “Christmas Eve is only two days off and without your father, I’ll never be able to get my sleigh off the ground.” Santa’s concern is for his own enterprise, not for the endangered lives of his slaves. And here we learn the answer to the musical question posed by Hermey and Rudolph: “We may be different from the rest/ Who decides the test/ Of what is really best?” Despite its token message of acceptance and tolerance, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer clearly demonstrates “who decides the test”: it’s Santa, of course — Santa who lives in the only castle, Santa who dictates not only the careers but the entire lives of those under his reign, Santa whom we all acknowledge as the arbiter of who is naughty and who is nice. This adherence to the absolute authority pervades the entire text of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Even on the island of misfit toys, the final authority rests with King Moonraiser, the leonine king who flies around the world each night seeking out misfits to spirit away to the island. His flight and his authority both suggest that King Moonraiser is the dark doppelganger of Santa, a stark authoritarian whose whims have the power of law in his despotic kingdom. This tale that seems on its surface to celebrate the individual ultimately caves in to the hegemonic power of authority, which predicates its acceptance of the unique or odd on their usefulness. Rudolph and Hermey are welcomed only after their idiosyncrasies serve the needs of the larger orthodox society — and even then, they are only accepted under the imprimatur of the autocratic leader whose interests they serve. Lest you spare any pity for the brutally critical Santa we meet in the movie’s first moments, the cranky old guy who refuses to eat and can’t think straight because the sung praises of his underlings ring too loudly in his ears, remember the words of our narrator: “Mrs. Claus will have him plenty fattened up by Christmas. It’s always the same story.” Fatcat gets fatter; news at 11. It’s always the same story. Indeed it is, creepy inching-toward-us snowman. Indeed it is.
Free Kids Friday. (Get one free rental from the Children’s or Family sections, no other rental necessary).
>>>It’s a kids movie. It’s free . Be happy.
Having a Wild Weekend. (Rent two, get your third movie for free from any section on Saturday and Sunday.)
>>>For Saturday, Former Videoporter Stockman suggests ‘Veronica Mars’ (in Feature Drama.) Continuing my challenge of “Maybe if Stockman recommends this show (in writing) a few more times, I’ll actually watch it…” and just in time to recommend it for the holidays! I have an abiding, pure and beautiful love of Christmas. And that includes using this time of year to savor my favorite holiday themed episodes of my favorite shows. Two more amazing reasons to watch Veronica Mars – The Season One episode “An Echoll’s Family Christmas” and the Season Two episode “One Angry Veronica”! Veronica Mars sleuthing ability knows no holiday not even for the holidays! And thank goodness it doesn’t, because without it we wouldn’t have such lines as “Annoy tiny blonde one, annoy like the wind”! Each episode interestingly enough featuring its very own Scrubs actor. That dude who played Keith and that dude who played The Todd!
>>>For Sunday, Andy suggests The Hot Spot (in Mystery/Thriller). It’s the return of Andy’s Noir Cor-Noir! This time, I’m recommending a neo-noir, director Dennis Hopper’s 1990 thriller The Hot Spot. The screenplay is based on Charles Williams’ adaptation of his own novel Hell Hath No Fury. It was written decades ago and was originally intended to star Robert Mitchum. That, I’m sure, would have been a real classic, but I’m also happy with Hopper’s movie, which stars Don Johnson, Virginia Madsen , and Jennifer Connelly. The lead actors are all required to show lots of skin, but the characters are all so manipulative that no one seems to be enjoying themselves. It’s as if these sad, mean people are being jerked around by fate, helplessly scheming to try to escape. Johnson plays Harry Madox, a drifter who is always plotting something. We never see him drawing up his plans, but just watch him in action: he gets a job at a car dealership; he robs a bank in an ingenious way; he beds the boss’s needy young wife (Madsen); he punches out a blackmailer; he falls in love with a good girl with some surprising secrets (Connelly). We don’t understand Madox, or even like him, but he’s never a dull guy to watch. I was reminded of the original Postman Always Rings Twice, a similarly compelling but hopeless movie. The Hot Spot gets the noir feeling right, and not just because it’s a period piece. It’s the attitude. I wouldn’t rate it as highly as Blood Simple or Red Rock West, but it’s far more satisfying and sexy than The Two Jakes. Don Johnson isn’t bad as Madox. He’s unlikable to the extreme, but he’s tan, manly, and he has a sleazy presence. Virginia Madsen and Jennifer Connelly are perfect femme fatales*. Jack Nance, right out of Twin Peaks, provides a welcome dash of Lynchian oddness. Charles Martin Smith and William Sadler have fun supporting roles. And Dennis Hopper’s direction is stylish and confident; I got more honest entertainment out of The Hot Spot than I have from any other movie Hopper ever directed.
*Femme fatales or femmes fatale?
New Releases this week at Videoport: Dolphin Tale (Morgan Freeman’s in this true-life tale of a kid, an injured dolphin, and some some serious feelgoodery), Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen’s late career quality seesaw seems to have hit the high side with this typically star-studded dramedy about a screenwriter [Owen Wilson] who gets transported back to jazz age Paris to hang out with Hemingway, the Fitzgeralds, and the gang), Glee: The Concert Movie (they sing other people’s songs, which, apparently, many people enjoy), Warrior (Tom Hardy [Bronson, Inception] stars in this action drama about a pair of absurdly pumped-up brothers whose estranged relationship gets all sorted out in the chainlink arena of a mixed martial arts ring), ‘Futurama’- season 6 (if you don’t love this show by now, well, it’s your loss, really), Colombiana (Zoe Saldana plays an orphaned gal turned psycho assassin in this action thriller directed by the awesomely-named Olivier Megaton), Margin Call (you know that financial crisis where a bunch of well-heeled a-holes stole your parents’ retirement fund? Well check out this drama, starring the like of Kevin Spacey, Zachary Quinto, Jeremy Irons, Simon Baker and others for a fictional representation of that particular mundane evil), Straw Dogs (check out the still-shocking original version of this revenge drama in Videoport’s Criterion Collection…and this one if you’re looking to play “unnecessary remake double feature night”), The Tempest (Julie Taymor’s visually-stunning version of the Shakespeare play finally comes out on DVD; they put the blu-ray out months ago, for some stupid reason… ), Blackthorn (the ever-awesomely-grizzled Sam Shepard stars in this Western as the aging Butch Cassidy, trying to leave Bolivia and return home), Burke & Hare (ultra-cool Brits Simon Pegg [‘Spaced’, Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead] and Andy Serkis [every movie monkey ever] star as the infamous English grave robbers in this dark comedy from once-knew-what-he-was-doing director John Landis [Animal House]), Saint Nick (just in time, here comes another evil Santa movie, this time from Holland! Santa’s actually St. Nicholas who murders children under the December full moon! A double feature with this and Rare Exports seems in order…), Stay Cool (the busy Polish brothers [whose film The Smell of Success hit DVD just last week] release another of their quirky dramedies with this tale fo a writer returning home to deliver a high school commencement address; oddball cast includes Winona Ryder, Chevy Chase, Josh Holloway, Jon Cryer, Sean Astin, and others), Love Exposure (Japanese drama about three sexually, shall we say quirky, people coming together in an unsettlingly-touching menage), Julia’s Eyes (good-looking Spanish thriller, produced by Guillermo Del Toro, about a woman slowly losing her sight who tries to solve her sister’s murder in a spooky clinic), ‘The Ricky Gervais Show’- season 2 (Gervais, Stephen Merchant, and the ever-bewildering Carl Pilkington have their podcast animated, to hilarious effect), Eames: The Architect and the Painter (art-y documentary about the husband-and-wife team of Charles and Ray Eames who revolutionized industrial design, I’m told), The Borrower Arrietty (WHAT! It’s a new Studio Ghibli animated film!?!? Written by the legendary Hiyao Miyazaki [Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro], this version of the Borrowers stories hasn’t really been released stateside yet, but Videoport’s crafty owner Bill has scored us a Japanese import; it’s best not to ask too many questions…)
New Arrivals on Blu Ray this week at Videoport: Colombiana, Midnight in Paris, Warrior, Straw Dogs (2011.)