Volume CCCL- 350 Issues of Fried Gold
For the Week of 5/1/12
Videoport reminds you that you can get 5 or 10 free dollars in rental credit any time you want. The secret is hidden somewhere in this newsletter!
(Actually just check the Tuesday special- we really do want you to get that free money…)
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! OR Get any three non-new releases for seven days for seven bucks!
>>> Elsa S. Customer suggests a triple feature of Battle Royale (in Made in Japan), Series 7 (in Incredibly Strange), and Rollerball (in Sci Fi.) Oh, Videoport customers and staff, I’m so proud of you for bumping up Battle Royale into the Top 60 Rentals in the wake of the Teen Dystopia Juggernaut known as The Hunger Games. Battle Royale, that legendary (and gleefully splattery story) of Japanese schoolkids pitted against each other in a vicious elimination battle for the entertainment and subjugation of the greater populace, was a seminal influence on 21st century dystopian fiction, and on The Hunger Games specifically. Though Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins claims to have been unaware of Battle Royale while writing (an embarrassing but plausible oversight, given the difficulty of procuring BR on DVD until recently — but Videoport had you covered, folks!), at the least, Battle Royale helped to shape the popular idea of dystopian entertainment: not just the bread-and-circus survival spectacle, but the exploitation of a population of teenagers thrown together and forced to pick each other off for the sake of their own survival. But there are lots of possible dystopian futures hurtling toward us, folks, not just pretty teens slaying each other! To watch a wider cross-section of everyday people hunting other everyday people for sport and survival, check out Series 7: The Contenders (new on DVD). The film, shot cinema verité style, presents us with a marathon broadcast of the seventh season of reality series “The Contenders,” which is equal parts Battle Royale and Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.” Five new contenders, drawn at random from a nationwide pool, vie with Series 6 survivor Dawn (Brooke Smith, Silence of the Lambs, “Weeds,” “Grey’s Anatomy”) for the championship… and for their lives. Brooke Smith brings grit, vulnerability, and a thinly-veiled layer of rage and desperation to her role as the dogged survivor, and the film’s spot-on mimicry of contemporary reality tropes and tones makes it a darkly funny and wickedly cutting satire of the shameless voyeurism of the ever-more-popular TV fodder. Round out the dystopian spectacle marathon with 1975’s Rollerball, which stars James Caan (yes, THAT James Caan!) as Jonathan E, the hot-shot champ of the vicious full-contact spectator sport called rollerball — a demanding game of strength, endurance, and skill that blends some elements from roller derby, rugby, pinball, and motocross into a merciless murder-for-sport. Teams are, of course, sponsored by the immensely powerful transnational corporations that rule this global oligarchy. When the starchy chairman of Jonathan E’s team, played by John Houseman (yes, THAT John Houseman!) offers ever more benefits and blandishments to persuade Jonathan E to retire at his peak, we know there must be a darker motive beneath his avuncular interest… and indeed there is. An aging player persisting not only in his prowess but in his very survival undermines the subliminal political purpose of the rollerball spectacle: to demonstrate the futility of individual agency. The film gets a little ponderous, toppling under its own philosophical weight, but the action sequences are cruelly sharp and striking.
Tough and Triassic Tuesday! Give yourself a free rental from the Action or Classics section with any other paid rental! OR Get any three non-new releases for seven days for seven bucks!
>>>Here it is!!! Yeah- you, too can get yourself free money at Videoport any time you want! If you pre-pay $20 on your Videoport account, it magically turns into $25 in store credit! And $30 gets you a whopping $40 of rental credit to use at your leisure! Nope, not a joke. Just free money.
Wacky and Worldly Wednesday! You’ve got a free rental coming from the Comedy or Foreign Language sections with any other paid rental! OR Get any three non-new releases for seven days for seven bucks!
>>>Elsa S. Customer suggests two films that up-end the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope. The A.V. Club’s Nathan Rabin coined the phrase “manic pixie dream girl” to describe the twinkling, whimsical girl-creature who scampers aimlessly and changelessly through romantic comedies with no raison d’etre beyond liberating the repressed, depressed, subjugated, or otherwise uptight male protagonist from his colorless world. (See Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Real Genius, What’s Up Doc?, Betty Blue, Barefoot in the Park, Cactus Flower, Joe vs. the Volcano, Something Wild, Bull Durham, Garden State, The Muse, Almost Famous, Stranger than Fiction, Elizabethtown, oh I can’t go on.) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, grimly repressed Joel (Jim Carrey) tries to cast Clementine (Kate Winslet) as his manic pixie dream girl, but she explicitly rejects this role in his life: “Too many guys think I’m a concept, or I complete them, or I’m going to make them alive. But I’m just a [_____]ed-up girl who’s looking for my own peace of mind. Don’t assign me yours.” Of course he does, much to his detriment, and our story starts out with the anguish of his heartbreak radiating across the screen to us. Then things get odd: Joel learns that Clementine has visited Lacuna, Inc., to have her memories of him wiped from her mind. Angry and hurt, Joel signs up for the procedure himself, which means revisiting all those painful memories for the technicians to pinpoint. And that, for the most part, is how we experience Clementine: as an indelible creature parading through Joel’s memories. Any vestiges of MPDG in Eternal Sunshine‘s Clementine only make sense; only a few scenes show the real, tangible Clementine living in present day rather than the Clementine figure that Joel cobbles together in his memory. It’s hardly surprising that this figment of imagination and tattered memory lives in orbit around its creator/memoirist; it’s more surprising that, even as a vanishing memory, she bursts out of his confines and develops her own agency and vitality. Similarly, as the extremely personal opening disclaimer and Tom’s montaged blason of Summer’s beloved attributes suggest, 500 Days of Summer is all about Hipster Boy’s self-centered experience of Hipster Girl, not about Hipster Girl herself, a notion that’s highlighted throughout the film with its little asides of fantasies, ruminations on “dream girls,” and the explicitly staged split between reality and expectation. Though Rabin included the titular Summer (Zooey Dechanel) from 500 Days of Summer in his list of MPDGs, I’d argue that she’s exactly the opposite: Summer has her own goals and desires, as well as a clear and unambiguously expressed distaste for commitment and love which directly conflicts with Tom’s (Joseph Gordon Leavitt) expectations of her, which she re-states emphatically as their romance picks up, which he agrees to over and over again, and which — of course — he manages to ignore completely his swoony romantic haze. Any manic pixie dust in 500 Days springs from the hopes and daydreams that Tom imposes upon the uncompromising and independent woman whom he’s woefully miscast as his plaint, ardent dream girl. Summer doesn’t usher him into any new vistas of imagination or ambition; she has her fun with him on her own terms without changing anything for him. It’s Tom’s rampant imagination that adds color and flash to his real-world routine, making 500 Days a mercurial mix of exuberant and mundane, but the only pixie here is Tom.
Thrifty Thursday! Rent one, get a free rental from any other section in the store! OR Get any three non-new releases for seven days for seven bucks!
>>>Piehead’s Emily-in-law recommends a double feature of The Social Network and Pirates of Silicon Valley (in Feature Drama.) One is a widely acclaimed, Golden Globe and Academy award winning film and the other is a slightly silly, somewhat hyperbolic made-for-TV movie, but they both carry the same basic message: the young pioneers behind the personal computer/internet revolution all seem to be really unpleasant, narcissistic jerks with very few positive social skills. Which is exactly what makes both of these movies so darned fun to watch! For those of you who have been living in some sort of remote cave without an internet connection or teevee for the past few years, The Social Network tells the story of Mark Zuckerberg and his relentless drive to invent what some would say (including me) is one the most obnoxious forms of social communication yet to be experienced in the evolution of man. Zuckerberg (played to loathsome perfection by Jesse Eisenberg) is one of the most unsympathetic characters you will probably ever come across. In fact, if this guy ever decided to come into Videoport and act like the same tool he appears to be in the film, I think it’s pretty likely that our very own Regan would happily bicycle kick him in the nads (and I would pay cash money to see that happen). He’s a guy who tears through the world and through those around him seemingly without a single care for the feelings and fortunes of anyone other than himself. He is convinced that he’s always the smartest guy in the room and that this entitles him to lie, cheat and steal his way to social media domination and a bank account that could likely provide enough funds to run several small countries quite nicely. To describe Zuckerberg as a sociopath probably wouldn’t be too far off the mark. Happy good fun times!! And that nicely segues us into Pirates of Silicon Valley, which purports to capture the rises (and falls and re-rises) of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, beginning with their salad days in college (Harvard and Berkeley, respectively), through the heady frenzy of their, sometimes intersecting, paths to fame with Microsoft and Apple. Again, these guys aren’t particularly likeable. They don’t come off with quite the same level of sociopathology embodied by Zuckerberg, but they’re not too far off from it either. There are a few moments where Gates (in a wonderfully dorky performance by Anthony Michael Hall) actually seems like he might have been a fun guy once, like when he and a friend embark on an unauthorized, drunken race using stolen tractors from a construction site, but his thirst for money and fame is the trait that seems to show through most of the time. Steve Jobs (cute, floppy haired Noah Wyle of ER fame) is definitely the scarier of the two. His ego is something to behold – he routinely abused his employees by making them work 60, 70 or even 90 hours straight without a break and then berated them mercilessly when their exhausted brains could no longer produce the “genius” that he had come to expect. And he adamantly denied that he was the father of his first daughter, Lisa, (despite a positive paternity test) and withheld financial support for years and years before finally owning up to his responsibilities as a father. The weird part about that is that, on the flip side, he subscribed to a lot of concepts that are supposed to bring about a sense of calm and inner peace, like meditation, primal scream therapy and dropping lots of acid while hallucinating that he is in the middle of a wheat field “conducting” the wind as if it were a symphony orchestra. Basically, he was a complicated and weird guy. But the fun part of this movie is watching everyone (and I mean EVERYONE) merrily steal from everyone else. Apple stole the idea for the mouse and menu interface right out from under the noses of Xerox; Microsoft stole the idea for the original Windows platform from Apple; and so on and so on… If nothing else, these two movies perfectly illustrate that genius does not always necessarily come wrapped up in a pretty or pleasant package.
Free Kids Friday! One free rental from the Kids section, no other rental necessary!
>>>You know, for kids!
Having a Wild Weekend! Rent two movies, and get a third one for free from any section!
>>>For Saturday, Elsa S. Customer suggests Toy Story 3 (in Comedy.) This is one of the best movies I’ve seen in years. Not “one of the best kids’ movies” or “one of the best animated movies” — one of the best movies, bar none. The opening sequence alone manages to wed the exhilaration and spectacle that we should expect from movies with the pure giddiness of simple play, and also succinctly frames the story we’re about to see. Andy, the beloved toy owner of Toy Story 1 & 2, is leaving for college soon and his mom needs him to clean up his room, including the toys languishing in his toy chest. Through a series of mishaps, most of the toys get tossed to the curb for trash collection, a crushing blow that causes them to break their long-held faith and make a break for Sunnyside Daycare Center, where they are greeted with open arms by Lots-O’-Huggin’, the fluffy, scruffy, warmly avuncular pink teddy bear who rules the playthings. At first, Sunnyside seems like a utopia where toys are played with by an ever-changing, never-ending waves of appreciative and imaginative children. But of course, utopia is an illusion. (As we edgily watched the first approach of Lotso and his flunkies, I confided to your editor, “I feel like I’m watching the first act of a Rob Zombie movie.”) From there, Toy Story 3 plays out like any classic escape movie (think Stalag 17 or The Great Escape) without ever shying away from the emotional depths that the situation evokes: the toys’ perceived betrayal by Andy, Woody’s perhaps unfounded faith, fear both of the unknown and of the all-too-known perils of their new home, and the vertiginous giddiness of their escape maneuvers. The film is unabashedly emotional without ever becoming maudlin. Even better, it’s a dizzying adventure that never loses sight of its characters and lets everyone (even the villain) have a moment of vindication and strength.
>>>For Sunday, Elsa S. Customer suggests Damnationland 2011 (in Horror.) Whenever the wind howls and whines around the walls like this, I find my mind, all unbidden, thinking about Derek Kimball’s Are You the Walkers? Though Damnationland‘s made-in-Maine horror-themed short film collections from 2010 and 2011 boast several excellent pieces, Are You the Walkers? is the one that got into my bloodstream. It haunts me on windy nights, in heavy snow, in creaky cottages, and whenever I hear an unexpected knock at the door in the dark. It’s a familiar premise: two friends take off for a relaxing winter weekend at a secluded little cottage in the woods. When a storm crops up, they’re even more cut off, but still reassuringly cozy in their wood-stove haven… until a neighbor knocks at their lonely door and asks (in a flat, biting, downeast tone that will resound in your head) “Are you the Walkers?” Kimball, best known for acclaimed short film The Bully, lets this simple story unwind with a creeping sense of inevitability, letting the dread accumulate from little hints, incongruities, and paranoia rather than big revelations or events. I’m going to watch Are You the Walkers? again this weekend by myself, but please excuse me while I go turn on every light in the house first.
New Releases this week at Videoport: Haywire (ever-interesting director Steven Soderbergh again changes gears, this time giving us an action-packed thriller about a double-crossed black ops agent [played by MMA fighter Gina Carano] who’s out for revenge against the likes of Channing Tatum, Ewan MacGregor, Michael Fassbender, Antonio Banderas and the like), George Harrison: Living in the Material World (Martin Scorcese directs this documentary about the quietest Beatle), Joyful Noise (the unlikely duo of Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton team up to save a small town gospel choir, and rock your world…), New Year’s Eve (Garry Marshall continues to consult his calendar for ideas, with this December 31st-themed romantic thingy starring the likes of Sarah Jessica Parker, Jessica Biel, Zac Efrom, Michelle Pfieffer, and oh hell, everyone white in Hollywood, really…), ‘Covert Affairs’- season 2 (Piper Perabo continues her secret-agent-ing in this spy series), ‘Suits’- season 1 (new legal series about a high-powered lawyer whose new partner is brilliant, skilled, and completely not a real lawyer), W.E. (Madonna directed this, a romantic drama about the 1936 scandal that erupted when British King Edward VIII abdicated his throne to marry…eeek!…a commoner), The Mystery of Edwin Drood (Masterpiece Theater production of Charles Dickens’ unfinished last novel promises classy chills galore), Films of Fury (documentary about the history of the kung fu movie- HI-YAAAA!), Cirkus Columbia (drama about how a man’s plans for a prosperous homecoming go awry in the now-former Yugoslavia), Littlerock (cool indie drama/comedy about a Japanese brother and sister’s adventures stranded in the titular tony California town), Dark Tide (Halle Berry and real-life hunky sweetie Olivier Martinez team up in this high-water adventure about diving with sharks, hunting for treasure, and Halle Berry in a bikini).
New Arrivals this week at Videoport: Flicka 3: Country Pride (check the kids section for this horsey family drama), Life Is Sweet (finally on DVD, this early family comedy by director Mike Leigh is as warm and entertaining a movie as he’s ever done), The Three Stooges Collection (all the DVD Stoogery you could ever ask for.)
New Arrivals on Blu Ray this week at Videoport: W.E., Men in Black 2, ‘The Killing’- season 1, The Blues Brothers, Dark Tide.