VideoReport #342

Volume CCCXLII- The Revengening

For the Week of 3/6/12

Videoport gives you a free movie every day. Take a chance on something weird. We like it when you’re weird…

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!

>>>Videoport customer Jenna G. suggests The Gift (in Mystery/Thriller.) I picked up this mystery-psych-thriller because Sam Raimi (Evil Dead, Spiderman) directed and Billy Bob Thornton co-wrote. Also, the story is supposedly inspired by Billy Bob’s psychic Mother. What?! Annie Wilson (Cate Blanchett) reads cards in a deep southern town full of crazies and drunk rednecks. Giovanni Ribisi gives the best performance as a tortured mechanic among a cast of pre-Tom Katie Holmes, Hilary Swank, Keanu Reeves and Greg Kinnear. While dialogue and characters border lazy or cliche at times, the plot gets interesting when Annie helps investigate the disappearance of a local girl. Her “gift” is presented in a believable way throughout and the “whodunit” second-half of the movie has some fun twists. Ultimately, this is a dark movie with some good ideas and a solid lead. Sidenote: Raimi directed Billy Bob in a not-to-be-missed film: A Simple Plan.

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

>>>Andy suggests The Asphalt Jungle (in Classics). John Huston’s 1950 thriller couldn’t differ more severely from his first film, The Maltese Falcon (1941). Both are noirs, but that’s all they have in common. In fact, The Asphalt Jungle more closely resembles Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing than Falcon (Sterling Hayden’s presence helps), though Jungle is more realistic and less stylized than either of those films. It’s also more compassionate and forgiving of its flawed characters, instead of judging them from an amused distance. The story is simple: a man masterminds a jewel heist and recruits some criminals to execute his plan. The plan is solid, except that it doesn’t account for the human element. In that way, The Asphalt Jungle is the same as every other film about crime (or any other endeavor). People have a way of gumming up the works. That’s a noir attitude. But if this is a noir, where is the femme fatale? There are two femmes in this film, though there’s very little that’s fatale about them. One is Jean Hagen, who portrays Doll, Sterling Hayden’s devoted ex-fling. She sticks by her man no matter what trouble he gets into, and even cleans his apartment! The other, played by Marilyn Monroe, does nothing but look beautiful and let her hopelessly smitten sugar daddy (Louis Calhern) drive himself to distraction. She doesn’t love him, but she likes him just fine, and he’s sweet to her. Together, these women are the most passive femme fatales in film history. They’re both decent women who let their men make all the mistakes. Noir is typically a man’s world, and The Asphalt Jungle is full of greedy, violent men, but the women in the film provide shades of warmth that make the story more realistic, and ultimately more tragic.

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

>>>Former Videoporter Stockman suggests D.E.B.S. (in Comedy.) My brother and I first rented this, I’m profusely sorry to say at Blockbuster*. But we learned a fun and valuable lesson at Blockbuster because as sad yet entertaining as this story is, it would never happen at Videoport and that’s a good thing. Let me first say, I knew nothing about this movie other than sexy women in school girl outfits with guns were on the cover and based on the tagline they were spies, because of a secret test hidden in the SAT’s. A SECRET TEST! A TEST HIDDEN INSIDE THE SAT’S TO DETERMINE IF YOU ARE GOING TO BE A SEXY LADY SPY! Done and done! My brother was pretty easy to convince to rent this! At the counter, the young Blockbuster lady was kind enough to allow us to rent this (yes, I just used the word allow, without sarcasm). We were WARNED in harsh undertones, lest someone hear her apparently horrifying, filthy words, that we should be careful because it had *girls…kissing…each other*. Sorry to offend you lady, but done and done! Needless to say, this movie is everything I ever dreamed it would be! It has sexy lady spies! It is ridiculous! It is ridiculously magical! It includes a most entertaining gratuitous lip syncing music montage to Erasure’s A Little Respect! And, girls kissing each other! Thank goodness this fun, silly, romantic, highly entertaining movie was made, the world is a better place for it!

*Of course, as an honored competitor in the field of video rental battle, we mourn the loss of our erstwhile foe. Sure, they were bloated, under-movied, garishly-formica-ed, and their employees knew as much about foreign language films as they did about the large hadron collider, but… Wait, I had something here….

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

Herc. He’s an idiot.

Lester Freamon. He’s like the Anti-Herc.

>>>Elsa S. Customer suggests ‘The Wire’ [in Mystery/Thriller], even if you’ve seen it before… and especially if you’ve seen it twice through. Watching David Simon’s deservedly legendary HBO series “The Wire” for the first time is a bit like learning to swim: you’re thrown into the complicated worlds of Baltimore’s overtaxed Homicide division, a special unit developed to study drug kingpin Avon Barksdale’s syndicate, and the many members of the syndicate itself. It’s a sprawling cast of characters with dozens of interweaving story lines and realistically complicated relationships, spread out through several separate but intersecting subcultures. The closest we get to a traditional first-episode dramatis personae is a police photo board putting names to faces — but only of a handful of the gang’s street-level soldiers. (Rewatching the first episode last night, I suddenly looked at the DVD counter and thought “We’re more than eight minutes in and we’ve learned one person’s name — the corpse lying in the street” — who never comes up again in the entire series.) After the spoon-feeding that most dramas do to keep viewers up to speed, this reserve is a bit jolting, but “The Wire” demands your attention and then utterly, completely rewards you for it. That’s the first time through. The second time through, you know the characters and the story arcs. The second viewing, like the second reading of a great novel, allows you to fully immerse yourself in the characters’ arcs. This time, you know who they are, where they came from, and — devastatingly, in many cases — where they’re going. Now that you’re not struggling to follow the complex stories, the show’s greater theme of institutional decay becomes strikingly clear at every turn, even in the first few episodes. The D.A.’s office with its staggering stacks of paperwork on every desk, lining the walls, and precariously propped on office chairs: that’s not just set-dressing for an overworked office but a symbol of a legal system smothering under its own weight. The parallels between cops and robbers become strikingly clear. When a hand-to-hand drug dealer commands a crowd of waiting junkies “You all know what this is! Up against the wall!,” it’s not hard to imagine why he chose those precise words. When a surveillance van drives off having given up on finding the dealers’ stash, the camera shifts to the van of the rival criminal crew (as yet unnamed, of course) who watched longer and smarter than the cops. Again, like a great novel, the third time through, even greater resonances and symbols emerge. To pick just one example, let’s look at Detective Thomas “Herc” Hauk. At first, Herc seems as dumb and as dangerous as an untrained and neglected dog, but as the series develops, he is the very embodiment of the institutional decay and socio-political resentment that obstructs true and meaningful changes. Lazy, abusive, shiftless, untrustworthy, and almost hopelessly naive, Herc nonetheless believes his initial stagnation in the ranks is the consequence of affirmative action or favoritism, not of his own woefully poor police work. Herc routinely and off-handedly refers to his whiteness as a mark of some obscure authority: with his (black) partner in a pointless argument about which of them is Batman and which is Robin; with a citizen while phonebanking for a (black) mayoral candidate. His simmering racial resentment only fuels his apathy for police work; Herc cuts more and more corners as the show proceeds. But, dumb and destructive as he is, Herc is a constant unwitting catalyst, both for his colleagues and for those outside the police force. [SPOILERS] It’s astounding how many major events in the universe of “The Wire” are precipitated by some fool thing Herc says or does. To list just a few: Prez beating a teenager, the identification of the elusive Avon Barksdale, linking the dock workers to the drug trade, Carver’s life-altering introduction to Major Colvin, the dissolution of Hamsterdam (and the end of Bunny Colvin’s largely productive police career), the release of Marlo Stansfield, and — most heartbreakingly — innocent Randy Wagstaff loosing his stable home and enduring daily beatings as a snitch. Herc is like a force of nature, a tornado, moving heedlessly through the landscape with destruction trailing behind him, blissfully unaware of the miseries he visits upon those in his wake. Perhaps the answer to the riddle of both Herc’s destructive nature and his personal success lies in his utter lack of integrity. Most of the characters on the series, cops and criminals both, struggle to align their personal morality with the strictures of their institutions. As Omar points out so poignantly, “A man’s got to have a code.” All the players recognize that their wins and losses occur within those strictures, that they are, in some greater sense, a consequence of the system. “It’s all in the game, yo,” even though the game is rigged. But Herc has no code, no guiding principle, no sense of a greater system, no passion or ambition other than bettering his own circumstances. Tellingly, we see him switch alliances over and over: from unit to unit, commander to commander, from candidate to candidate, from cops to robbers (by taking a job with Levy, the lawyer representing Barksdale, thus working against his former units’ interests), and finally (though briefly) betraying Levy to his former partner, only to accept Levy’s fraternal embrace at the end. Levy’s no fool; despite his words, he probably knows that Herc is no one’s mishpocha. Herc’s only loyalty is to Herc.

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

>>>Former Videoporter Stockman suggests ‘Phineas & Ferb’, ‘Fairly Oddparents’ and ‘Avatar The Last Airbender’, A.K.A Kids TV Shows that don’t Suck! If anyone is wondering how to turn me into a raging ranting infuriated hulk monster, which I’m sure you were, I can give you a tip.  Just say something like this “Yeah, that movie totally sucked, but…it’s a kids movie, it was made for kids.” NO! NO NO NO NO NO! WRONG! There are no strings attached to quality. Movies aren’t awesome because they were made for adults, they’re awesome because they were made well. (The worst offender, Star Wars: Episode I. It’s not bad because it was made as a kids movie. It’s bad because it was made awful in every way humanly possible.) This sentence is even worse in these days of Pixar, for the most part Pixar makes a damn fine movie and it reaches out to all ages. Why? Because it’s just a damn fine movie with quality filmmaking and a quality story. It used to be Jim Henson was my only relatively main stream go to example of this! But now, I have all of Pixar, even some non-Pixar Disney (The Emperor’s New Groove, Lilo & Stitch), and Dreamworks (Madagascar, MegaMind, Kung Fu Panda, How to Train Your Dragon). These are all solid films. Truly solid, for any age, you can’t discount them just because they’re kids movies. Well made is well made, why does the main intended audience matter? Wow. You’re probably wondering what the hell I’m actually recommending? Well aside from every one of these completely bitchin’ movies, I thought maybe you’d also be interested in some great kid’s TV shows of merit! They’re hilarious and entertaining for kids and adults alike! Kids will watch most anything. I should know, it’s how I spent pretty much the first 18 years of my life. So keep your kid watching stuff you’ll like too! Because it’s quality! Quality is good! So rent some Fairly Oddparents or some Phineas & Ferb! These shows regularly make me laugh out loud! I’m completely taken by surprise by the humor! I mean, if it’s Friday, they’re free so why the f*** not?! Or for the love of Bob take home Avatar the Last Airbender! Crappy movie aside (crappy because it’s crappy not because it’s for kids. Because this show is for kids and it’s fanflippintastic), this is one of the best dang TV shows!

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

>>>For Saturday, Dennis suggests you re-read Ms. S. Customer’s Thursday review of ‘The Wire.’ It’s brilliant, and so is the show. It’ll make your life better.

>>>For Sunday, Elsa S. Customer suggests Rabbit-Proof Fence (in Feature Drama.) From 1915 to 1940, A.O. Neville (Kenneth Branagh), known among his subjects as “Devil,” held the title of Chief Protector of the Aborigines for all of Australia. Rabbit-Proof Fence shows how a dedicated protector can be far more dangerous than the most vindictive enemy, if only because a protector can control or persecute with a clear conscience, believing with all his heart that it’s for your own good. Aboriginal adults were made wards of the state, barred from acting on their own behalf in even the smallest of matters (as the film so effectively shows us in Branagh’s first scene when he blandly denies a subject’s formal request to buy a new pair of shoes, since she bought a pair just last year), while their children were taken from them in the name of child protection and the desire to “civilize” the next generation. (And, not incidentally, these children are trained for a life of servitude to Australia’s white population.) Among the countless children taken over a hundred years were young Molly Craig and Daisy Kadibil, daughters of wise and wise-cracking Maude, and their cousin Gracie. But the supposed benefactors in the church-run internment camp and the bureaucrats overseeing them were unprepared for Molly’s mettle. Refusing to be separated from her mother, she proposes an audaciously simple plan: the three of them can return to Maude — and to freedom — by walking the 1,500 miles to her, using the continent-wide rabbit-proof fence as a guideline. This true story (based on the book by Molly’s daughter Doris Pilkington) is dramatic, to be sure, and director Phillip Noyce (The Quiet American, Salt, Dead Calm) is maybe a touch heavy-handed with the emotional imagery, but I’ll be darned if it doesn’t work. When Maude puts her hands on the fence’s top wire and, a thousand miles away, the girls sway it back and forth in a wordless greeting, I get teary-eyed despite myself. But it’s not the sentimental sweetness that makes this film so watchable; it’s the unflappable certainty that Molly (Everlyn Sampi) shows at every turn and the quiet intelligence that she projects throughout the film. When her tiny sister can walk no farther, young Molly calmly says “I’ll carry you only once” as she scoops up Daisy in her slim arms. (And then everyone watching starts crying. Okay, just me.) Molly’s eyes are always thoughtful, always reckoning: gauging the best route to take, calculating the right moment to move, eking out their resources and deftly extracting helpful information from anyone they come across without disclosing too much of their now-celebrated escape. Everlyn Sampi projects a curious, affecting mix of calm certainty and occasional alarm — with flashes of glee that remind us how young she is to be carrying such responsibility on her shoulders. This is a girl who could walk across a continent.

We are all shiny and mad!!

New Releases this week at Videoport: Immortals (directed by the one-named Tarsem…KNEEL BEFORE TARSEM!!!!…comes this typically-visually-stunning, 300-style sword-‘n’-sandals mythological action flick), The Song of Lunch(Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman

Hello. You know you want to watch this. Just look at us. Look…

are in this; that should be enough to get you to watch this British drama), ‘Game of Thrones’- season 1 (HBO delivers another blockbuster series, this one, a Lord of the Rings-type deal about seven noble families fighting for power; costarring the ever-delightful Peter Dinklage [The Station Agent]), Footloose (the world needed a remake of the 1980s dance flick? If you say so…), The Skin I Live In (it’s the new Pedro Almodovar movie; again- that should be all most of us need to know…[if you need more details, Antonio Banderas plays a haunted plastic surgeon inventing a new type of synthetic skin and turning a young woman into an echo of his lost love]), Senna (everybody’s excited about this documentary about a legendary race car driver), Jack and Jill (Adam Sandler plays two Adam Sandlers! One’s a girl Adam Sandler! It won the Razzie for worst movie ever made, or something! Enjoy!), Like Crazy (immigration policy spells trouble for a young couple [Anton Yelchin, Felicity Jones] when she’s deported for overstaying her visa; but don’t they know she’s adorable!?!), Columbus Circle (a young shut-in woman is forced to deal with the outside world when her neighbor is murdered in this thriller starring Jason Lee, Selma Blair and Giovanni Ribisi), London River (two disparate parents come to London to discover the fates of their respective children in the wake of the 2005 terrorist bombings and learn more about their children than they expected), High Road (for fans of the Upright Citizen’s Brigade or, you know, just funny people doing funny things, here comes an improvised film directed by the UCB’s Matt Walsh and starring the likes of Joe LoTruglio, Lizzy Kaplan, Rob Riggle, and more), Killing Bono (comedy about two high school friends whose dreams of rock superstardom are overshadowed because they go to the same school as U2), Treasure Buddies (puppies! They do puppy things!), Retreat (Cillian Murphy and Thandie Newton are taking a vacation on an isolated island when a crazed young man [Jamie Bell] shows up, claiming that a devastating plague has wiped out the rest of the world; sound like a great set-up for a thriller, no?)

New Arrivals this week at Videoport: Steppenwolf (Max Von Sydow starred in this 1970’s adaptation of the Herman Hesse classic).

New Arrivals on Blu Ray this week at Videoport: ‘Game of Thrones’- season 1, The Skin I Live In, Immortals.

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