VideoReport #344

Volume CCCXLIV- The Punchening

For the Week of 3/20/12

Videoport gives you a free movie every day. How you gonna beat that? You can’t, that’s how…

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 Starman (in Sci Fi/Fantasy.) For middle aisle Monday, I suggest John Carpenter’s Starman. I was hesitant to rent this “tender, moving, science-fiction love

Plus, Karen Allen. Rrrroooooowwwwrrr...

story” from 1984…but it stars Jeff Bridges and aliens are awesome. Bridges plays Starman, who crash lands in Wisconsin and clones the body of recently deceased Scott Hayden. Scott’s widow, Jenny (Karen Allen), reluctantly joins Starman on a cross country race against time and the US government! Casting was critical for this movie. I can’t imagine Starman as funny or endearing had he not been played by Jeff Bridges. If you’re not convinced, Starman revives a dead deer. A DEER! Rent it, watch it with the family! How often do you read a glowing recommendation here for a PG movie?

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

>>>Write for the VideoReport! Send your reviews to us at denmn@hotmail.com or our Facebook page “VideoportJones!”

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

>>>Andy suggests these films that attempt to answer the question: What the heck is wrong with comedians? I mean, sure, we all like to laugh, and sometimes it’s fun to make other people laugh. But it takes a certain kind of personality to want to make EVERYBODY laugh, and I’m not sure it’s a very healthy personality. (I have personally known some comedians, and they are nice and wonderful people… and obviously the exceptions to the rule).

Funny, unlikeable people...

Funny People (in the Comedy section). This is a well written and very well acted (by Adam Sandler, Seth Rogan, and Oscar-nominee Jonah Hill) movie about a selfish and competitive bunch of stand up comedians. Since it’s a dramatic movie about the comedy world made by people who have been there, it has a great deal of insight into that kind of personality I’m talking about. I like the movie a lot, but I don’t really like any of the characters, except Eric Bana as an Australian businessman (notably not as a comedian).

Funny. Possibly mentally ill...

Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop (in Comedy). In this documentary about Conan’s post-Tonight Show tour, he is revealed to be a needy, hostile, and sometimes downright mean guy. His insecure need for constant adulation seems to border on mental illness. Even as I was laughing at his jokes and shtick, I felt sorry for him. But damn, he’s funny, and he’s genuinely appreciative of his fans, which helps him remain lovable.

Believe: The Eddie Izzard Story (in Documentary Arts). Eddie Izzard might be a lot nicer and more pleasant than some of the others listed here, but there is still something sick about just how driven and self-sacrificing he was on his long, painfully difficult road to fame. From being tied up and unable to free himself as part of an improvised magic act to losing all his money as an owner of his own comedy club, Izzard suffered innumerable setbacks before finally, miraculously achieving success… and then more setbacks.

The Ricky Gervais Show(in Comedy). What kind of people do this? Ricky Gervais* and Stephen

Funny. Clearly a d*ck...

Merchant start conversations with their “friend” Karl Pilkington, a radio producer-turned-author with a low I.Q. and a high tolerance for abuse. Then, as Karl talks and exposes his childish misconceptions about the world, Ricky and Steve mercilessly mock him for his stupidity. And that’s it! Of course, it is very funny, but I can’t imagine being as rude and hurtful to anyone as Ricky and Steve are to Karl. And why does Karl keep coming back for more? What is wrong with these people?

(*For more Ricky Gervais cruelty, check out the bonus features on disc 2 of season 2 of Extras. There’s one featurette dedicated to Ricky’s harassment of his longtime editor. It’s sad and humiliating.)

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

>>>Elsa S. Customer suggests What Happened Was (in Feature Drama.) The DVD case makes Tom Noonan’s two-person character piece look like a frothy little romantic comedy, which is a striking bit of mis-marketing. “What Happened Was” tells the story of co-workers Jackie and Michael (Karen Sillas, Tom Noonan) who, after months of circling each other , finally meet for a weirdly stilted first date. Its a story about hesitation, apprehension, and the longing for human connection. You’ll recognize writer-director-actor Noonan as The Sorta Creepy Guy from “X-Files,” Manhunter, House of the Devil, Synecdoche, NY, and pretty much whatever else you’ve seen him in. He’s looming and lanky with intensely brooding eyes — a peculiar fella to meet for a first date. And what follows is a peculiar date, for sure. It’s tense, awkward, and ultimately very touching.

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

>>>If you teach your kids about handling DVDs properly now (i.e.- DON’T TOUCH THE SHINY SIDE!), you’re 87% less likely to see them wreck your car as soon as they turn 16. It’s science…

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

>>>For Saturday, Dennis suggests Super (in Incredibly Strange.) Writer/director/freak James Gunn got his start working for even-bigger freak Lloyd Kaufman’s Troma Pictures, a company so dedicated to the art of bad movies that their movies are frequently unwatchable. Making the out-of-its-tiny-little-mind Tromeo and Juliet and other Troma “films”, Gunn laid the groundwork for his future career making much better, even weirder, movies on his own, like the gleefully-repulsive (and funny) Slither (starring the great Nathan Fillion), and Super (starring The Office‘s own Dwight Shrute, Rainn Wilson) and proving that it’s possible to escape from Tromaville with your career and your talent intact. Like Slither, Super is out of its tiny little mind, doing for the superhero genre what Slither did for the alien invasion one. In it, Wilson plays a mild-mannered (to the point of social maladjustment) fry cook named Frank who, at film’s beginning, is completely content, in that he’s somehow scored the hand of a way-out-of-his-league beauty (Liv Tyler), a recovering addict who waitresses at the diner where he works. When a slimy club owner/drug dealer (a very funny Kevin Bacon, clearly enjoying himself) steals his clearly-not-recovered beloved away, Frank has an epiphany/breakdown where he becomes convinced that the way to win her back/save the world is to become a real life superhero. (The fact that this epiphany includes writhing anime tentacles which saw the top of Frank’s head off so that the finger of God can poke him in the brain suggests that Frank maybe has some issues/James Gunn is still delightfully bananas.) Stitiching together an ill-fitting costume and getting some superheroic insight from a gung-ho comic shop clerk (a wild-eyed Ellen Page), Frank christens himself the Crimson Bolt and starts lumbering through the streets looking for miscreants to smash on the head with his trusty pipe wrench. This is some violent, very darkly-comic stuff, contrasting Frank’s maniacal desire to do some sort of vaguely-defined good, and the harsh reality that calling yourself a superhero doesn’t mean that you’re not just a half-bright vigilante in silly clothes smacking people with a wrench. Things get even darker when Frank/Crimson Bolt decides to make his wife’s new lover/dealer his ultimate target and (with Page tagging along as his unwanted sidekick Boltie) launches a violent assault on Bacon’s henchman-riddled mansion. Super is what you’d expect from a James Gunn joint- imaginatively, crazily violent, lots of fun character actors doing their thing (The Wire‘s Andre Royo, Linda Cardellini, Gregg Henry, Fillion, Michael Rooker), and some genuinely-twisted humor. In addition, I’ve got to say that Wilson is very affecting as Frank/CB- his simple-hearted misfit is clearly insane and dangerous, but you can’t help but feel for the guy. And his scenes with Tyler (also very good) are quite affecting as well- Frank can’t see the danger signs of a clearly-desperate, wounded woman clinging to the first decent guy she sees; Frank just thinks they’re happy, and that everything he’s ever wanted is now his, forever. The loss of something like that- I’ve heard worse superhero origin stories.

(Also, Super would make a great double feature with the Gunn-penned The Specials, another oddball superhero flick about “the fifth or sixth best superhero team in the world,” which featured my favorite tagline of all time: “Not as good as regular superheroes, but slightly better than you!”)

>>>For Sunday, Elsa S. Customer suggests The Prisoner (in Sci Fi/Fantasy.) The legendary British series is hard to describe — or, more precisely, the show’s quirks and basic premise are easy to describe, but any description will fail to convey the deeply weird, whimsical tone of the show. The premise is neatly encapsulated in each episode’s credits: ice-cool Bond-James-Bond type (Patrick McGoohan) resigns in high dudgeon, then tools through swingin’ London in his hip roadster to his bachelor pad, where he’s drugged and abducted by unknown forces. Each episode opens with our protagonist looking out his familiar apartment window to see the surprising view, a quaint little seaside village where he’s held prisoner. That image sums up the whole series: the familiar framing the impossible. The village is a dreamy balance of playful and sinister, Kafka wrapped up in Dr. Seuss. The inhabitants — some presumably prisoners themselves, some employees and agents of whatever power maintains this little prison — promenade cheerfully around the verdant landscape, bedecked in colorful stripes, carrying rainbow parasols, greeting each other with a friendly salute specific to the island, listening to cheery announcements and instructions from the omnipresent loudspeakers, and busying themselves with band concerts, local elections, and art competitions. Amid this unchanging atmosphere of forced jolliness, the show’s more surreal elements strike all the harder. Our nameless protagonist, known only as Number 6, is questioned daily by Number Two, presumably the immediate subordinate of an unseen Number One who oversees the absurd prison village — but Number Two is routinely replaced. Even the geography of the little village is uncertain: sometimes, it seems clearly an island, others a little seaside town on the mainland. Mainland of where? Um… If you’re noticing a lot of “presumably”s in this review, that’s because the show tells us very little and leaves us to presume most of the story and background. Was Number Two a spy? Presumably. Did he resign for reasons of conscience? Presumably. Is he being held by some political agency, on his side or another? Presumably. So much of what we think we know keeps changing, shifting, twisting away from our understanding, creating a free-floating dreamlike paranoia that makes the show work as an allegory for almost anything. Is it an exploration of identity in the modern world, an elegy for the lost simplicity of village life, a study of existential crisis, a rant against the nanny state, a chilling metaphor for life under a Communist regime, or a less specific indictment of the power of social indoctrination? Well… sure, presumably.

New Releases this week at Videoport: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011) (Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara star in this inevitable American remake of the already-insanely-popular-and-dark Swedish thriller; all the rape, none of the subtitles!), The Muppets (Jason Segel fulfills his lifelong dream and brings the Muppets back from obscurity in this utterly-delightful new movie; my niece Penelope is now obsessed with the Muppets. She’s six. Never, ever doubt Penelope…), The Sitter (your enjoyment of this filthier Adventures in Babysitting update may depend on your love or annoyance with Jonah Hill; I thought it was okay- plus any time you let Sam Rockwell be weird and funny is always a plus), Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Gary Oldman leads a great, British pudding-faced cast [Ciaran Hinds, Toby Jones, Benedict Cumberbatch, Colin Firth, John Hurt, Tom Hardy, Mark Strong] in this deceptively-gripping, measured adaptation of the John LeCarre spy novel about the hunt for a Russian mole in Cold War-era British intelligence), Carnage (Roman Polanski directs this intense drama about a two couples [played by an exceptional cast: Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, John C. Reilly] who come together for an evening after their sons are involved in a fight, and things get pretty dark…), My Joy (acclaimed Ukrainian drama about a truck driver whose picaresque adventures through the bleak Russian landscape gradually become pretty dark…), Suicide Room (bizarre Polish flick about a teenaged boy whose obsession with the titular online fantasy site gradually becomes pretty dark…), Jess + Moss (enigmatic indie about two second cousins spending a summer exploring their decrepit surroundings and remembering their strange, David Lynchian childhoods; cool person/geek alert: the female lead is played by Sarah Hagan, who was Millie in ‘Freaks and Geeks’ and one of the potential slayers in ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’), Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life (Videoport’s Sam is raving about this biopic of the legendary [some might say infamous] French singer; never, ever doubt Sam…), Roadie (from the director of the improbably-moving pedophile drama L.I.E. comes this drama about the titular aimless roadie [Ron Eldard] who takes time off from lifting things for Blue Oyster Cult to take care of his ailing mom, and to steal his ex-girlfriend back from her husband), Telstar: The Joe Meek Story (biopic about the troubled, decidedly odd fella who wrote the titular instrumental 60s classic, among others), Creature (a good ol’ gory monster movie set in the Louisiana swamps and featuring genre vet Sid Haig, for horror movie cred), Happy Feet 2 (they’re penguins. They dance. What more do you wanna know?)

New Arrivals this week at Videoport: ‘Upstairs Downstairs’- the Complete Series (are you suffering from ‘Downton Abbey’ withdrawal? Well, Videoport’s got your back, bringing in the entire run of this similarly-beloved BBC series about the various goings-on and whatnot between the servants and aristocrats of a London townhouse at over 30 or so years in this 1971 series), ‘Inspector Morse’- season 1 (you know how British people like to murder each other and stuff? Well, Videoport’s bringing in yet another beloved BBC ‘crusty policeman pursues the seemingly-endless parade of Britishy killers’ series to join the dozens of similar shows on our shelves), D2: The Might Ducks (Emilio Estevez, with the hockey, and the little kids…you remember…), Track 29 (typically-bananas thriller from director Nicholas Roeg [Insignificance, Walkabout] with Theresa Russell’s bored housewife taking up with the mysterious stranger [an early, typically-magnetic performance from Gary Oldman])

New Arrivals on Blu Ray this week at Videoport: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011), The Sitter, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Carnage, Matrix Reloaded, Matrix Revolutions.

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