Volume CCCXXXVI- The Godzillahood of the Traveling Pants
For the Week of 1/24/12
Videoport gives you a free movie every day. How do we do it? You don’t know…you don’t wanna know…
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.)
>>>The Oscar nominations are out! Videoport suggests you check out these Oscar-nominated films/actors/directors (at least some of which are probably in the middle aisle!)
-For Best Picture, you can rent: Midnight in Paris (in Drama), The Help (in Drama), Tree of Life (in Drama), and Moneyball (surprise!- in Drama.)
-For Best Director, it’s just Woody Allen for Midnight in Paris and Terrence Malick for The Tree of Life so far.
-Best Actor: Demian Bechir (A Better Life- Drama), and Brad Pitt (Moneyball-Drama.)
-Best Actress: only Viola Davis is on DVD at the moment (The Help- Drama)
-Supporting Actor: Jonah Hill (Moneyball), Nick Nolte (Warrior), and Christopher Plummer (Beginners.) All in Drama.
– Supporting Actress: Jessica Chastain (The Help), Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids), and Octavia Spencer (The Help.)
-Original Screenplay: Bridesmaids, Margin Call, Midnight in Paris.
-Adapted Screenplay: Moneyball, The Ides of March.
-Documentary: If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front.
Tough and Triassic Tuesday. (Get one free rental from the Action or Classics sections with your paid rental.)
>>> Andy suggests Design for Living(in the Criterion section). For such a stylish, urbane film, Design for Living sure is lurid (especially considering that it was made in 1933). It’s about the charming and
genuinely sweet Gilda (Miriam Hopkins) who has affairs with two poor artists, playwright Tom (Frederic March) and painter George (Gary Cooper). And it’s clear that these are sexual affairs, by the way. Tom and George are lifelong friends and roommates and don’t want to throw it all away over a woman. But their love for Gilda is as serious as her love for both of them. Basically, everybody loves everybody. Gilda suggests, scandalously, that they all live together as a threesome, but there’s one catch: “No sex!” Surprisingly, this situation brings out the best in all of them. Gilda acts as the artists’ muse, inspiring the best work of their careers. But success creates new complications, as when Tom is lured away to London to oversee the production of his play, leaving George and Gilda alone… Design for Living was directed by Ernst Lubitsch and displays his famous “Lubitsch Touch.” I don’t know if the touch has been decisively defined, but I’d describe it as very theatrical and unsubtle, but also clever and witty. And so European. Lubitsch’s use of obvious visual metaphors can be very funny, like a wink and a nudge to the audience. But he usually stops just short of being obnoxiously smug or tastelessly vulgar. In Design for Living, the director gets away with a lot because his characters are so likable, and so enthusiastically performed by the cast. Gilda, especially, is a lovable character. As she swoons for Tom and George, she reveals herself to be as carnal an animal as either of them. But her sexuality is seen as honest and pure, not manipulative and destructive (as sexuality would often be judged when the Production Code kicked in). Gilda can be reckless, though, like when she seduces George by telling him that, while they have a gentleman’s agreement, “I am no gentleman.” That’s hot stuff (and not just for 1933).
>>>Elsa S. Customer suggests All about Eve (in Classics.) Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s scathingly dry, ascerbically witty film about Broadway diva Margo Channing (Bette Davis in one of her most iconic roles) and her closest circle of friends (and of “friends”) reaches its turning point at her lover’s birthday party — appropriately enough, considering Margo’s preoccupation with her age, his age, and the gap between them. “Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.”
Wacky and Worldly Wednesday. (Get one free rental from the Comedy or Foreign Language sections with your paid rental. OR, get four non-new releases for a week for seven bucks!)
>>>Elsa S. Customer suggests a comedy birthday episode triple feature! First, there’s Community S2 disc 3 ep “Critical Film Studies” It’s Abed’s birthday and the study group is throwing him a Pulp Fiction-themed surprise party — which should blow the mind of a pop-culture trope machine like Abed. (Annie: “He’s going to say ‘cool’ at least five times!”) But Abed has other plans: he asks Jeff to meet him alone at a white-linen restaurant for a grown-up dinner, complete with grown-up talk and a grown-up cardigan for Abed. This episode stands as an example of the thoughtful approach “Community” writers take to story construction and to the show’s many layers of allusion and reference: even if the more obscure elements elude the casual viewer, the story — and the jokes! — still flow and resonate.
Next up, it’s Community S2 disc 2, ep “Mixology Certification” Happy expulsion-from-the-uterus day to Troy! Raised as a Jehovah’s Witness, Troy has never celebrated his birthday, and the frosted message on the study group’s celebratory cake makes a token attempt to respect that tradition. But when Troy realizes that it’s his 21st birthday, not his 20th, all bets are off: the gang heads out to a neighborhood dive, eager to usher Troy into manhood. And they do, though in a much more authentic and heartfelt way than anyone expected. This is an astonishingly touching and earnest story, and also side-splittingly funny — a rare combination anywhere, and especially on mainstream TV.
Then there’s “The Office,” S4 disc 2, ep “Survivor Man” Stung at being excluded from a corporate camping retreat, Michael sets out on his own to brave the Pennsylvania wilderness. Jim, left in charge of the office, decides to streamline the office’s many time-wasting birthday celebrations into one small party. Uh-oh.
>>>Dennis suggests you get to know newly-minted Best Actor nominee Jean Dujardin in OSS 117: Cario, Nest of Spies and OSS 117: Lost in Rio (in the Foreign Language section.) Sure, he won’t win, since he’s all foreign-y and stuff, but it’s great to see the lanky, goofy-smiled Frenchman get some serious publicity, especially since I was already a huge fan by virtue of his performance in these two Gallic James Bond spoofs. Playing a Bond-era secret agent, Dujardin brings every sexist, racist, fascist element implied in the Bond-ian worldview and turns it into comic gold. Impeccably-tailored in Connery-esque couture, OSS 117 breezes through each of these hilariously-dippy comic adventures, nimbly-skewering the paternalistic, psychotically, heedlessly-violent attitudes inherent in the secret agent genre, all the while taking time out for the occasional goofy flashback or live chick fight. And Dujardin is pitch-perfect, his sleek handsomeness tilted ever so slightly into the goofy range. He’s a very funny guy- and about to become much, much more famous, so get in on the ground floor…
Thrifty Thursday. (Get one free movie from any section with your paid rental.)
>>> Elsa S. Customer suggests Breaking Bad, S1 disc 1 (in Feature Drama.) The pilot introduces us to Walter White on his 50th birthday, a milestone in any life, and especially in a life so flatly ordinary and uninspired. Once a promising science prodigy, Walter now teaches high school chemistry to silently indifferent kids, works a demeaning second job to make ends (barely) meet, and finally goes home to a blandly run-down suburban home and a distracted nagging wife. It would take a jarring disaster indeed to knock Walter White out of his rut of quiet desperation — and a jarring disaster is exactly what he gets.
Free Kids Friday. (Get one free rental from the Children’s or Family sections, no other rental necessary).
>>>Elsa S. Customer suggests Sleeping Beauty. The King and Queen have had a baby girl! Joy! Celebration! Jubilation! Then the fairies all gather to bestow their birthday blessings upon the little bundle of joy: beauty, song, and — Whoa! Maleficent, outraged not to have received the royal invitation, curses the baby; on her sixteenth birthday, Princess Aurora will prick her finger and diiiiiiiiie. Yikes. Worst. Birthday party. EVER. One last fairy delivers her own gift, a softening of the curse: rather than dying, the girl will simply fall into a peaceful sleep. And so will the entire kingdom, only to be awakened if Aurora should receive true love’s kiss. So, let me get this straight, good fairy: you’re re-distributing this curse upon all the folks in the kingdom, bringing all their lives to a screeching halt, then banking the futures of an entire realm on the off-chance that, trapped there immobile behind a thicket of thorns, this completely passive, silent, eternally unconscious girl will meet a partner who loves her without hesitation and, indeed, without introduction? So, basically, their fate relies upon any random guy who’s into comatose chicks? Super. Great solution, good fairy.
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 Mad Men, S1 disc 1, ep “Marriage of Figaro” (in Feature Drama.) For the first few episodes, Don Draper looks like a slick and promising culture hero, a handsome and prodigiously talented rogue who breaks all the rules. Plenty of viewers found ways to excuse his excesses, almost recasting them as merits. He drinks too much? Well, sure he does, steeped as he is in the high-pressure liquid-lunch mindset of mid-century Madison Ave. He plays around? Well, yeah: he’s a man’s man and a ladies’ man; women can’t keep their hands off him. He discounts the concerns of women (both at home and in the office) and privileges the experiences of men? Well, sure, it was a different time and blah blah blah. But in the third episode, Matt Weiner starts to chip away at the smoke-and-whiskey glamor of Don Draper, showing us what happens when that perfectly Brylcreemed coif gets a little rumpled. It’s Sally Draper’s birthday, a landmark that she’ll remember all her life, and Don is about to show us — and her — just how trustworthy and reliable he is.
>>>For Sunday, Elsa S. Customer suggests Friday Night Lights(in Feature Drama.) Fffffft, a show about football? No… Listen, to describe myself as “not interested in football” is not so much an
understatement as it is a funny little joke. Man, do I not give a hot goddamn about football, especially (as an erstwhile gothy Texas teen) staggeringly popular Texas high school football. I don’t know the fundamentals of the game or the roles of the various players. I do not care about football. And I am loving this show. That’s because “Friday Night Lights” is about football the way that “The Wire” is about electronic surveillance or the way “Mad Men” is about midcentury advertising: the best dramas use the subject as a lens through which to examine a community and a cast of complex characters. “Friday Night Lights” is delivering those characters and how: the high school students already dealing with all the attendant pressures of impending adulthood, plus the immeasurable strain of being the sole source of entertainment and pride for a zealously supportive community; the adults who support or strain them.
New Releases this week at Videoport: Real Steel (ROBOT SMASH!! I mean, in this touching, inspirational sports drama, Hugh Jackman plays a washed-up boxer trying to win the futuristic sport of robot boxing, where he trains a robot boxer to ROBOT SMASH!!!!), 50/50 (Joseph Gordon-Leavitt turns to typically-boorish pal Seth Rogen when he’s diagnosed with cancer in this comedy/drama “canceromedy”), Paranormal Activity 3 (round three in this entry in the cost-effective “surveillance camera” horror genre; c’mon, you’ve come this far…), The Whistleblower (intense drama with Rachel Weisz, an Nebraska cop acting as a UN peacekeeper in Bosnia who goes public with a sex scandal against the wishes of pretty much everyone in charge; costarring Vanessa Redgrave and David Strathairn), Revenge of the Electric Car (Tim Robbins narrates this documentary sequel to Who Killed the Electric Car? detailing the return of those seeking to rethink how the American car industry operates. Hint: it involves electric cars…), ‘Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations’- Season Six, Part 2 (whether eating bull testicles or calling out Paul Deen for turning the Southern US into one giant lard-bucket, people love watching Bourdain’s grumpy gastronomy), Today’s Special (‘The Daily Show’‘s Aasif Mandvi writes and stars in this culinary comedy about an aspiring chef whose plans to study in Paris are derailed when he finds himself forced to take over his family downscale Indian restaurant in Queens), Yamla Pagla Deewana (check out Videoport’s Bollywood section for this colorful comedy/drama about a married Canadian who heads back tot he old country to reunite with his estranged father), Beginning of the Great Revival (on the heels of the Jackie Chan-directed 1911 [available in the Foreign section] comes another star-studded historical epic glorifying the birth of Communist China, shockingly-funded by Communist China; at least it stars certified cool guys like Chow Yun Fat, Andy Lau, and director John Woo…), Beware the Gonzo(high school comedy about an
outcast, fired from the school newspaper, who decides to go all Hunter S. Thomson on his school), Essential Killing(visceral survival/political thriller about a captured Taliban [played as an Afghani by American psycho director/actor Vincent Gallo] who, held for torture at a secret American prison in
Poland, escapes and must fight his way through the Polish wilderness; directed by Polish legend Jerzy Skolimowski [Moonlighting]), Ice (new anime!), Queen of the Sun: What Are the Bees Telling Us? (documentary takes a hard look at the fact that all the bees are dying; I think they’d want to tell us that they’re all dying, and that we should help them- just a guess), Happy Happy (acclaimed Norwegian drama about a put-upon housewife whose life is revitalized when a seemingly-perfect couple moves in next door), The Lie (Joshua Leonard [The Blair Witch Project, Humpday] directs and stars in this indie comedy about a beleaguered husband whose lie, intended to just get his boss off his back, starts taking over his entire life.)
New Arrivals this week at Videoport: Between the Folds (like paper? Like folding things? Well then this documentary about a group of eccentric scientists and artists dedicated to origami is right up your street), Infinity (Matthew Broderick directs and stars in this biopic about the life of physicist, oddball, and one-time Bowdoin College professor Richard Feynman.)
New Arrivals on Blu-Ray this week at Videoport: Real Steel, 50/50.