Volume CCCXXXIX- Godzilla’s Valentine
For the Week of 2/14/12
Videoport offers you a free rental every single day. We suggest you use it to rent something you’ve never heard of. The world (and, more to the point, Videoport) is full of all the best, worst and weirdest movies ever made. Take a chance. It’ll make your life better.
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.)
>>>Videoport customer Alex S. (via our Facebook page) recommends Anitchrist (in the Incredibly Strange/ theCriterion Collection.) I went to Videoport last night and asked for “a totally brutal, devastatingly nihilistic horror movie” (or something like that) and they sent me home with Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist. While I think John Waters’s Art Forum review of the film is best (“If Ingmar Bergman had committed suicide, gone to hell, and come back to earth to direct an exploitation/art film for drive-ins, [Antichrist] is the movie he would have made.”), it was basically like if the mutilation scenes in The Piano Teacher were Directed by Texas Chainsaw Massacre‘s Tobe Hooper. Tough and Triassic Tuesday. (Get one free rental from the Action or Classics sections with your paid rental.) >>>Dennis suggests Grand Hotel(in Classics.) Kind of a revolutionary idea at the time (1932), this lavish, multicharacter drama set in the titular Berlin hotel clumped several of MGM’s biggest stars
together in the same omnibus movie. You’ve got Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo, Wallace Beery, and John and Lionel Barrymore, all get to do their disparate things: Beery’s a heartless industrialist, Crawford’s his secretary, Lionel’s his underappreciated employee (finding unaccustomed freedom due to a terminal illness), and Garbo and John make gauzy goo-goo eyes at each other as a disaffected ballerina and an aristocratic cat-burglar, respectively. They’re all fine, with Lionel’s turning worm getting the most crowd-pleasing scenes, and John and Greta being appropriately languorous and tortured, but it’s really the then 27 year old Crawford that steals the movie for me. It’s one scene that does it, really. Her penniless secretary is confiding with the aristocratic but equally-penniless John Barrymore about the fact that the boorish Beery has offered her career assistance if she becomes his mistress and he, finally getting what she’s talking about, give out a surprised “Oh.” And she returns an “Oh” which seems so knowing, so layered and modern that it seems like a present day actress delivered it via time machine. Look, I love old movie, but only an old frump would suggest that much of the acting in old movies seems more than a little arch and primitive in retrospect. In that one moment, Joan Crawford transcends her time. It alone is worth a rental as far as I’m concerned. 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!) >>>Dennis suggests a new-to-Videoport Criterion/samurai double feature of awesome! (In the Criterion Collection. Duh.) First up, there’s Kuroneko. Directed by Japanese wildman Kaneto Shindo (whose Onibaba you should also check out), this 1968 supernatural thriller, like Onibaba (which, again, see it), presents the oft-filmed samurai period of Japanese history in the least-heroic manner possible. Kuroneko, set in a time of unrelenting civil war, begins with a long static shot of a humble cottage surrounded by sprawling fields and forest. Slowly, a group of samurai emerge from the overgrowth and advance on the house, pausing only to slurp water from a dirty stream. Then one of the samurai walks inside. Two women, younger and older, interrupted at a meal, stare fearfully at him. He, and the warriors who follow him, stand and stare back. Then the men take the food, eating it with animalistic abandon. The their gaze turns to the women. In this world, the noble samurai are nothing but amoral, scavenging, opportunistic rape-monsters, and the end of this first sequence, with an ever-more upsetting-in-its-implications long, long stream of samurai strolling out of the women’s home culminates with unobtrusive tendrils of smoke seeping out through the thatched roof. It’s a powerful, upsetting (all the more so for being largely implied) opening, which leads to an unexpected turn where the burned bodies of the women are licked by a wandering black cat, causing the women to be resurrected as a pair of woman-shaped, seductive female demons who lure traveling samurai to their suitably-spooky forest home in order to exact bloody, cat-themed throat vengeance. Like Onibaba, it’s a dark, disturbing, and eerily-haunting examination of the at-heart savage nature of humanity, especially with regards to men and women, and when the film’s protagonist shows up to hunt down the women at the behest of his decadent, aristocratic lord, his position (as the absent husband/son of the two murdered women) throws a whole other level of drama and poignancy to the proceedings. And, now that you’re in the mood for deconstructionist samurai fun, why not pair Kuroneko up with new acquisition Three Outlaw Samurai (1964), the first feature from director Hideo Gosha (Sword of the Beast, Hunter in the Dark) , which, while still retaining a smidge of respect for the samurai code of honor, shows that in a world of greed, venality, and corruption, that code is bound to be subverted and betrayed. A wandering samurai (or ronin, if you’re a samurai geek) comes upon a hostage situation at a rural mill; three scruffy peasants have a well-born young woman bound and gagged. But, unlike in Kuroneko, things are not what they seem; the peasants, driven to desperation by hunger and taxation, have kidnapped a magistrate’s daughter in order to force him to make some changes. The taciturn ronin eventually takes up their case, gradually gathering together the other two titular samurai (including the portly, animated spearman Isamu Nagatu, whose resemblance to John Belushi’s later SNL samurai is especially endearing.) It’s like a 3/7th Seven Samurai, with men adhering, sometimes reluctantly, to an-increasingly-outdated code of honor banding together to help out the poor, and, like the Kurosawa classic, Three Outlaw Samurai is hardly blind to the complexities of the situation, especially with regards to their society’s treatment of women. Women are either sequestered and coddled or used, and violated according to the whims of men. Add to all this raw social commentary the traditional complement of samurai movie swordplay (and, in both cases, evocative b&w photography), and you’ve got a samurai double feature for the ages. You’re welcome. Thrifty Thursday. (Get one free movie from any section with your paid rental.) >>>Videoport customer Jenna suggests not renting certain movies in her “Worst Recent Rents” list!
–Permanent Midnight (in Incredibly Strange): Rent this if you want to be bored, depressed and a little disgusted (either by Ben Stiller’s intravenous drug use and/or watching him have sex).
–The Witches of Eastwick (in Comedy): I don’t know where to begin with this flick…rent this if you want to be disgusted by Jack Nicholas having sex or suffer through one of cinematic history’s worst story-line/script/acting/special-effects and wardrobe decisions. Also, Jack has a ponytail.
–Something Wild (in the Criterion Collection): I know I will get some resistance to this pick for worst recent rents…some people really dig Jonathan Demme. I think those people are high. Or related to Jonathan Demme. Warning: Melanie Griffith and Jeff Daniels have sex. Ray Liotta almost saves it with his wild eyes…but he’s much too late.
–Prophecy (in Mystery/Thriller): To be fair, I didn’t finish this movie. I rented it because of Christopher Walken’s* name on the case and it sounded creepy. Then a demon or a devil fell out of a window and Eric Stoltz is squatting at a school and making out with a student. That’s about as far as I got.
–Blind Date (in Comedy): I expected this late 80’s romcom starring Kim Basinger and Bruce Willis to be silly and have a fun soundtrack. It was and it did, and it was also incredibly obnoxious. The only good thing about Blind Date was Phil Hartman. We miss you, Phil!
*Walken does make bad movies. The Funeral nearly made this list despite the potentially awesome cast.
Free Kids Friday. (Get one free rental from the Children’s or Family sections, no other rental necessary.) >>>Free rental. You know- for kids! 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 a healthy Coen Brothers fight! Barton Fink and Miller’s Crossing. Your editor and I could duke it out all day over which is better, Barton Fink or Miller’s Crossing. (him: Obviously, Miller’s Crossing. me: Barton Fink! him: Miller’s Crossing! me: BARTON FINK! him: Could you lower your voice, sweetie? me: BARTON FINK! “I’LL SHOW YOU THE LIFE OF THE MIND!” “YOU! DON’T! LISTEN!”) I’m going to suggest you rent both today and decide for yourself.
>>>For Sunday, Dennis suggests ‘Friday Night Lights’ (in Feature Drama.) Credit Videoport’s sports-loathing Regan’s incessant badgering for finally getting me to watch this universally-acclaimed football drama series. It really shouldn’t have been that hard a sell: the nonfiction book by Buzz Bissinger was good, and the Billy Bob Thornton feature film was pretty solid, too. Plus, I played the feet-ball when I was a younger fellow, and my dad was my feet-ball coach, so I know the high school football milieu from the inside (although one might suggest that my and my dad’s experience at a tiny Catholic high school in Massachusetts was not exactly representative of the insanely high-pressure, utterly-fanatical Texas football machine as depicted in the series.) Still, I just didn’t watch the damned thing. But, as I said, Regan was relentless, as only Regan can be, and I recently completed the first season. Holy crap. What a great show. From the portrayal of the aforementioned nutty Texas football nonsense to the realistic high school dramas, to the on-field football heroics/heartbreaks, ‘Friday Night Lights’ is a well-written, well-acted, an uniquely-compelling show. What really makes it, however, is the relationship between Eric and Tami Taylor. He’s the coach of the Dillon Panthers, and she’s his long-understanding wife (and Dillon guidance counselor), and, without exaggeration, they form one of the most realistic and healthy married couples in TV history. It’s a delicate balancing act- neither is a perfect person (although they are in the top 99% of parents I’ve ever seen), but they consistently address the obstacles and occasional heartbreaks of married life with understanding, honor, and great makeup sex. It’s a tribute to the show that Connie Britton’s Tami, despite being “the wife” to a football coach who, to be honest, is the reason we’re here, is strong, smart, and, more than occasionally, the voice of reason. And Kyle Chandler’s Coach Taylor is, simply, one of the most decent father figures on TV ever. A fundamentally good man, Taylor finds himself in the midst of parental pressures, fanatical Texas football a-holes, familial responsibilities, his own ambitions, and the myriad crises involved in shepherding a team-full of testosterone-ful teenage boys through life, all the while trying to deliver the state championship Dillon expects, and he takes on each challenge with taciturn, yet genuinely decent, aplomb. I could talk about all the other great performances in the show (like bad boy Tim Riggins, golden boy faced with unexpected obstacles Jason Street, flashy running back with a heart Smash Williams, coach’s daughter Julie, unexpectedly-strong cheerleader Lyla Garrity, football-hating geek Landry Clarke, and, especially, soulful underclassman thrust into the spotlight Matt Saracen), but it’s Chandler’s pragmatic but ever-honorable Coach Taylor that really gets to me. He reminds me of my dad. Even if you hate sports, you’ll love this show.
New Releases this week at Videoport: The Rum Diary (Want some reasons to rent this? Here goes: 1. Johnny Depp’s in it. You love him. 2. Based on an autobiographical novel by Hunter S. Thompson. You love HST. 3. Directed by Bruce Robinson who also made two of the coolest comedies in the Criterion section: Withnail and I and How to Get Ahead in Advertising, 4. Costars include Giovanni Ribisi, Richard Jenkins, Amber Hear, and Aaron Eckhart 5. I mentioned Hunter S. Thompson, right?), Human Centipede 2: Full Sequence (remember how grossed out you were by the premise of the original? Well imagine a meta-sequel where a really unappealing fat guy worships that movie so much that he decides to kidnap people and re-create that fictional film’s central experiment. Yeah. Imagine that…I dare you), The Dead (lots of great reviews for this Africa-set zombie movie about an American pilot crash-landing as he flees from an undead-overrun African continent), Doctor Who: The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe (Matt Smith’s Doctor saves the universe! I mean, probably. I’m not trying to spoil anything- he really does save the universe a lot…), Woody Allen: A Documentary (everybody likes Woody again, so this wide-ranging doc about his life and career should continue to stoke the fire; by the way, Videoport has every movie he’s ever made…), Three Outlaw Samurai (see Wednesday’s review for the downlow on this forgotten 1964 Japanese classic), Take Shelter (the ever-creepy and interesting Michael Shannon [Revolutionary Road, ‘Boardwalk Empire,’ My Son My Son What Have Ye Done?) stars in this enigmatic thriller about a family man whose increasingly-intense visions of a coming apocalypse lead him to build a shelter in his backyard, among other disturbing acts), The Interrupters (massively-acclaimed documentary [from the director of Hoop Dreams] about ordinary Chicagoans who volunteer to, literally, interrupt incident of violence in their city), Mozart’s Sister (did you know Mozart [aka Amadeus] had an older sister who, by some accounts, was a better musician/composer? Well, he did…), Tiny Furniture (how do you know a contemporary indie comedy drama like this one [about a college grad who comes home to live with her parents to figure out her life] is worth your time? Well, when the good people at the Criterion Collection put their imprimatur on it, that’s a pretty good sign…), Urbanized (director Gary Hustwit’s final chapter in his documentary trilogy about design [after Helvetica and Objectified], this time about urban design), How to Die in Oregon (check out Videoport’s Documentary section for this doc about how the state of Oregon has coped with its passing of a “death with dignity” euthanasia law), A Warrior’s Heart (a young hotheaded lacrosse player [read: a-hole] tries to cope with his military father’s death in this would-be inspirational drama), Fireflies in the Garden (can an all star cast Julia Roberts, Ryan Reynolds, Willem Dafoe, Emily Watson] overcome your reluctance to rent a film made in 2008 but not released on DVD until 2012? Your call…), Sword of Desperation (2010 samurai flick about a tortured swordsman trying to make amends), Tales from the Golden Age (anthology film with several Romanian directors helming short films about the Communist occupation of their country), VIPs (true-life drama about a young man drawn into one of Brazil’s biggest corruption scandals), Carlos (Criterion collection release of the film about the notable international terrorist), A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas (John Cho, Kal Penn and Neil Patrick Harris are back, toking and making with the funny), The Barn (local horror short from Maine director Corey Norman; well done…), Elite Squad: The Enemy Within (the hellhole that are the Rio de Janeiro slums are the setting for this thriller, the highest grossing South American film of all time.)
New Arrivals on Blu-Ray this week at Videoport: A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas, Elite Squad: The Enemy Within.