VideoReport #340

Volume CCCXL- Martha Mothra May Marlene

For the Week of 2/21/12

Videoport has all the movies you could reasonably want, and we give you a free one every day. Oh, and since we have all the movies, you’ll never run out.

Middle Aisle Monday! Take a free rental from the Science Fiction, Horror, Incredibly Strange, Mystery/Thriller, Animation, or Staff Picks sections with any other paid rental!

>>>Elsa S. Customer suggests Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (in Mystery/Thriller.) The last film of acclaimed director Sidney Lumet (who helmed such varied and great works as 12 Angry Men, Serpico, Equus, and Network) was a bit overlooked upon its 2007 release. Some short-sighted critics, apparently still reeling from the kick Pulp Fiction had given them over a decade past, were unable to view a gritty heist story with a non-linear narrative as anything but Tarantino-lite. Roger Ebert’s review gets to the essence of Lumet’s last film; he calls Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead “such a superb crime melodrama that I almost want to leave it at that. To just stop writing right now and advise you to go out and see it as soon as you can.” And that’s what it is: not a winking post-modern pastiche but an old-fashioned crime melodrama updated with whip-fast editing and world-class acting, a twisting tale of greed, pride, secrets, and — above all — remorse. Instead of mimicking Tarantino’s patented spree of glamourized violence, wry humor, and slick pop culture pastiche, Lumet’s film shows us how tempting a quick score must seem to the desperate, and how tragically wrong that quick score can go. The actors (including Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Marisa Tomei, and Albert Finney) make the film tick; they make tiny moments and gestures as shattering as a gunshot.

Tough and Triassic Tuesday! Give yourself a free rental from the Action or Classics section with any other paid rental!

>>>Dennis suggests loading up your Videoport account with free cash! (Note: since no one sent us a Tuesday review this week, we’re using this space for shameless, yet undeniably useful, advertising. Send in your movie/tv reviews or assorted film frippery to denmn@hotmail.com to avoid this…unpleasantness…in the future.) Yup, if you pre-pay $20 on your Videoport account, we load that same account up with $25 worth of rental credit. And $30 up front buys you a whopping $40 worth of rental credit. That’s five or ten free bucks, that’s 20 or 25% off of Videoport’s already quite reasonable rental rates- that’s a good deal, is what I’m getting at here…

Wacky and Worldly Wednesday! You’ve got a free rental coming from the Comedy or Foreign Language sections with any other paid rental!

>>>Elsa S. Customer suggests Date Night (in Comedy.) Far too many romantic comedies seem deeply antagonistic to their characters, presenting women as scheming man-traps and men as witless horndogs. Me, I like to watch movies about people, not plot devices. I especially like watching romantic comedies in which people treat each other like people, not adversaries or archetypes. I’m not gonna blow smoke, here: Date Night isn’t a blockbuster-fantastic-great movie. It isn’t a stunning thriller or a breathtaking romance or even a side-splitting comedy. (I did find it lived up to two other cliched comedy benchmarks: I found it to be both “knee-slapping” and “laugh-a-minute.” I mean, face it: a minute is a pretty long time. If your comedy isn’t averaging at most a mild laugh every minute or so, maybe it’s not so much a COMEDY, y’all.) Okay, so… It’s not blockbuster-fantastic-great? No. But it is pretty darned delightful, and I’ll tell you why: under the clutter and bustle of their daily life and the terrifying adventure that overtakes them in the course of the film, Phil and Claire Foster (Steve Carell and Tiny Fey) not only love each other; they genuinely like each other. Fey and Carell deliver the comedy goods in every scene, but even better, they have an easy rapport as if they really have been married for years. These characters really feel like a couple: they work together, they remind each other of their strengths and virtues, and they just plain make each other laugh. That doesn’t seem like much to ask of a romantic comedy, but a staggering number of romantic comedies pair up pretty people without remembering the simple fact: if you don’t like your partner, you probably aren’t going to love them for long, either.

Thrifty Thursday! Rent one, get a free rental from any other section in the store!

>>>Dennis suggests Swamp Thing (in the Incredibly Strange section!) Now that DC Comics is shoveling hot buckets of cash into the major, tentpole comic book movie superhero franchise machine on a summer-ly basis, it’s kind of quaint to look back at a time (1982 in this case) when the comic book conglomerate was content to slap a bulky rubber suit on a stuntman and call it a day. Swamp Thing, (at least before comics shaman Alan Moore [Watchmen] later got his hands on him) was a minor, appropriately-murky DC superhero at the time, the reanimated corpse of benevolent scientist Alec Holland who rises from the brackish bayou waters he died in to fight the good fight against poachers, assorted creeps, and the criminal mastermind (the conveniently-named Anton Arcane) who had him killed in the first place. In the film, Holland’s played initially by all-around genre cool guy Ray Wise (Twin Peaks, Reaper), before being replaced by burly stunty Dick Durock in that rubber suit we were talking about, trudging through the mangroves on a mission of justice, and romancing the height-of-her bosomy sexiness Adrienne Barbeau (whose near-naked swamp swim had cable-addicted teenaged boys [like no one I know] wishing for a pause button on the DVR that hadn’t been invented yet.) It’s all relatively low-rent and silly, I suppose, but, in keeping with the comic’s sensibilities, Swampy is an endearingly noble and empathetic creature whose incongruously high-minded speeches lend him a certain improbable gravitas. Directed by Wes Craven of all people (who brought along his favorite Last House on the Left screen rapist David Hess as, surprise!, a creepy rapist- but at least he gets his head crushed like a grape), Swamp Thing endures as a slightly-campy, but genuinely-fun throwback to the days before CGI superheroics.

Free Kids Friday! One free rental from the Kids section, no other rental necessary!

>>>You can just come in and get a free movie from the kids’ section every Friday, no questions asked. Nope, we’re not yankin’ your chain…

Having a Wild Weekend! Rent two movies, and get a third one for free from any section!

>>>For Saturday, Dennis suggests ‘In Treatment’ (in Feature Drama.) Man, listening in on other people’s therapy is fun! At least that seems to be the premise of this quite addictive HBO series starring Gabriel Byrne and a weekly rotor of guest patients. I’ve always been a fan of Byrne’s clenched, brogue-y manliness, and it’s interesting to see him take on the role of sensitive therapist listener guy for a change; as he squares off against his patients, and wrestles with his own feelings and ethical dilemmas, he brings a strong, immediate center to a show that could, with a less-formidable lead, have quickly devolved into a drippy sniffle-fest. Which isn’t to say you won’t get the sniffles- it’s just that the show maintains a certain dramatic integrity, not usually resorting to cheap sentiment for its dramatic weight. The show’s three seasons take the form of a week’s worth of therapy sessions per disc (2 week’s worth in the third season), with Byrne’s Paul visiting his own shrink in each week’s last episode. It’s a neat set-up, although, at least at first, you might find yourself wanting to hit the skip button on a patient here and there. Don’t. Even the most off-putting-seeming patient gradually reveals worthwhile depth as you stick with him/her/them, and they all have a satisfying, if not completely-resolved, payoff. Of course, this whole setup is really just an actor’s sandbox where they get to strut their stuff up against the ever-stalwart Byrne, and almost everyone comes through ably. I’m especially impressed with Alice in Wonderland’s Mia Wasikowska (season 1), a confrontational, tortured teenaged gymnast, old pro Blair Underwood (season 1) as a tortured, outwardly-cocky military man, Sports Night‘s Josh Charles and Embeth

Paul and Oliver.

Davidtz (season 1) as a seemingly-mismatched married couple (they might try your patience at first, but will grow on you), Frasier’s John Mahoney (season 2) as an arrogant and (surprise!) tortured CEO facing panic attacks and a professional crisis, Bollywood vet Irrfan Khan (season 3) as a grieving Indian immigrant unhappily adjusting to life in America, Debra Winger (YAY!)(season 3) as an aging actress with memory troubles, and a remarkable little guy, Aaron Grady Shaw (season 2) as Oliver, a deeply-unhappy child trying desperately to cope with his parents divorce. In addition, Diane Wiest practically glows as Paul’s longtime colleague-turned-therapist Gina who takes Paul on as a client as his life falls apart during the first two seasons; their evenly-matched sparring sessions fairly crackle with intelligence and some serious acting chops. (There’s also one impossibly-wrenching episode with character vet Glynn Turman as a grieving father in season 1 that deservedly won Turman an Emmy, and completely wiped me out emotionally.) In season 3, Gina gives way to the ever-exquisite Amy Ryan (‘The Wire’, ‘The Office’) who brings her own particular brand of empathetic smarts to the role of Paul’s new therapist. And believe me, Paul needs therapy. For anyone who ever wondered if their shrink was as screwed up as they were, Byrne’s Paul should provide confirmation; arrogant, blind to his own faults, fully capable of rewriting facts to suit his interpretation of events, and consumed by his job, Paul gives his two attempted caregivers all they can handle as he copes with ethical dilemmas, family crises, and his own laundry list of personal demons. For all that, they, and we, stick on the guy’s side because, as he eventually shows with almost all of his deeply-wounded patients, he is a good therapist. You know, when he’s not being the worst therapist in the world. It’s that kind of show…

>>>For Sunday, Dennis suggests Stake Land(in Horror.) Man, is it a great day when I find a horror film I don’t think is completely a waste of time. I love horror movies, but most of them, perhaps even a higher percentage of them than other types of movies, suck beyond the telling of it. Which makes it hard to

Horror fans. This is your new thing.

recommend a decent horror movie to my fellow horror fan brethren an sistren when they ask, and makes me feel like a complete failure as a movie geek. So, when I find a recent horror flick that I can unreservedly recommend, well, it’s like a little present to me. Which brings us to Stake Land, a grim ‘n’ gritty little vampire movie which, as the box proclaims accurately for once, is “like The Road crossed with, I dunno, something with vampires!” (I’m paraphrasing.) Like The Road, there’s been a worldwide apocalypse and, through the bleak wasteland a taciturn father figure (the formidable Nick Damici) shepherds a young guy (Connor Paolo), teaching him the tools necessary for survival, and the dangers inherent in any apocalypse. Sure, in this one, the apocalypse is explicitly spelled out (hint: it involves vampires), but the dangers remain largely the same, especially when it comes to human beings left to fend for themselves, and extra-especially when it comes to human beings turning to religion to justify their actions. As the duo makes their bedraggled way across a blasted, vamp-y America towards the vague promise of a Canadian promised land, they pick up a few like-minded stragglers along the way (including Halloween series heroine Danielle Harris, onetime child actor Sean Nelson [American Buffalo, Fresh], and an impressive and unrecognizable Kelly McGillis as a badass nun) and cope with vamp attacks and, increasingly-more-dangerous religious zealots whose fanatical Christianity generously encompasses sex slavery and the violent murder of infidels. It’s all pretty impressive, with judiciously-skillful use of an obviously-meager budget, no one doing anything egregiously stupid (always a rarity in horror films), and nary a bad performance in the bunch. Stake Land‘s crisply-paced, as grisly as it has to be (but not to a gratuitous or showy extent), and nicely-resonant. Like I said, it’s always a treat to find an undiscovered horror gem; I look forward to recommending it. Often.

I would like eddie to be back. I am not entirely certain that he is...

New Releases this week at Videoport: Tower Heist (Eddie Murphy, Matthew Broderick, Ben Stiller, Alan Alda, Gabourey Sidibe, and many more funny people put their faith in professional hack Brett Ratner’s hands for this comedy caper comedy with the blandly-obvious name; did it pay off? Umm…), Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas gets his own Shrek-y spinoff as a he titular swashbuckling animated kitty-cat; you know, if that’s your thing..), ‘Weeds’- season 7 (the conspicuously-talented Mary Louise Parker returns as the loveliest pot dealer in TV history), The Way (Emilio Estevez directs his dad Martin Sheen in this drama about a father determined to finish his dead son’s trek along the legendary El Camino de Santiago trail), J. Edgar (Leonardo DiCaprio straps on a prosthetic schnozz [and maybe some sensible pumps] in Clint Eastwood’s biopic about the titular former FBI head), The Mighty Macs (one of those ‘based on a true story’ inspirational sports deals, this time about real life 1970s women’s college basketball coach Cathy Rush), ‘Nurse Jackie’- season 3 (Edie Falco is back as everyone’s favorite pill-popping, hard-talking health care semi-professional in this cable dramedy), War of the Arrows (anyone up for a lavish Korean period war epic? Yeah!!!), Martha Marcy May Marlene (probably the most acclaimed vie of the week, this thriller’s about a young woman escaped from a cult [headed by the ever-interesting John Hawkes] who flees to live with her sister’s family; I’m sure the cult fellows will be fine with that…), London Boulevard (great Bristish cast [Colin Farrell, Ray Winstone, David Thdewlis, Keira Knightley, Anna Friel, Eddie Marsan] all star in this Brit crime thriller about an ex-con hired to take care of a famous actress), ‘Borgia’- season 1 (one sure sign that your papacy was super-awesome is if, a half century later, there are two competing saucy cable series about your decadent family’s debauched machinations; and, just to head off any questions, no, this is completely-unrelated to the current Jeremy Irons series which we also have; also, we at Videoport refer to both series as “Sex Pope”; see you in hell…), The Son of No One (Channing Tatum’s abs and the usual suspects [Al Pacino, Ray Liotta] star in this cop drama about a young, well, cop sent to serve in the working class neighborhood he grew up in), ‘The Fades’- season 1 (spooky BBC series about a guy who keeps having apocalyptic dreams, and seeing the spirits of the dead all around him), Last, Fast Ride: The Life, Love and Death of a Punk Goddess (rockumentary about legendary bay area punk rocker Marian Anderson.)

New Arrivals this week at Videoport: World on a Wire (legendary German auteur Rainer Werner Fassbinder wrote and directed this presciently-Matrix-y sci fi miniseries about a computer simulation that pulls people into its alternate reality; from the good people at the Criterion Collection.)

New Arrivals on Blu Ray this week at Videoport: Tower Heist.

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