Volume CCCLXXXIV- Holiday Hangover
For the Week of 12/18/12
Videoport sings: “fa la la la la, la la la…DONE.” Whew- holidays over, everyone- rent yourselves some movies and relax…
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!
>>>Dennis suggests you give yourself a nice pat on the back, Videoport customers! As another year (our 25th!) comes to a close, we here at the ‘Port (nobody calls it that…) want to say a serious, sincere, and even sappy thank you to all, old friends and new, for your decision to choose to support an independent, local video store (that’s us). We’ve been doing this for a long, long time and we can only continue to be who we are and do what we do when people like you allow us to. You picked Videoport for your own reasons- maybe you live nearby, or maybe you hate faceless corporate institutions that care for money and not movies, or maybe you just like us. Whatever your reasons, we like you, and we thank you. Now let us recommend some movies for you, you kooks…
>>>Elsa S. Customer suggests ‘The Twilight Zone’ (in Sci Fi/Fantasy.) I watched it in reruns as a little kid, and I still watch those same old episodes with the same childlike enthusiasm, chin propped on my elbows while I gaze unwaveringly at the screen. And those same old stories, the great TV parables of their time, hit unflinchingly on a handful of themes that even a child can appreciate: Be a good neighbor. Be kind to those less fortunate, especially when they come under your power. Temper your nostalgia with appreciation of the present. Be cautious and conscientious in the use of power. Honor the shared humanity of every culture and race, or risk losing your own humanity. At times, the moral gets pounded home a little hard, a little on-the-nose… but truthfully, I never mind that, because the child I was when I first watched these shows still wants to hear someone say those big truths out loud.
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!
>>> Elsa S. Customer suggests Shadow of a Doubt (in Mystery/Thriller.) If you asked me which was my favorite Christmas gift, I couldn’t possibly choose one. But I can easily tell you which of my presents will be your favorite of my gifts: it’s the copy of Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt that Mr. Videoport Jones gave me. Now when I get a hankerin’ to watch the Hitchcock film that Alfred Hitchcock himself said was his favorite, I can pull it off my shelves, not off Videoport’s shelf. And I get that hankerin’ a lot. Like, a lot, and with good reason. On the surface, it’s a straightforward story: young Charlotte “Charlie” Newton wishes for something, anything, to liven up her family’s comfortable, humdrum days in thw white picket fence town of Santa Rosa, California. Impulsively, she rushes to the telegraph office to send a message to her namesake, her charismatic world-traveling Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten)… and discovers that he’s already on his way. Uncle Charlie arrives, bringing presents and money and exciting stories and — of course, this being a Hitchcock flick — an air of mystery and dread. Joseph Cotten plays his role to the hilt, shifting effortlessly from rakish allure to chilling gloom to sly deception. It would be easy to imagine that he and he alone brought depravity and sin to this sleepy little town, but it’s not so, and Hitchcock rubs our noses in it every step of the way. Under its sunny brightness, peaceful Santa Rosa bubbles over with the ferment of corruption, with small and large temptations and cupidity. When Uncle Charlie squires his teenaged niece around town, her friends look on with naked curiosity, obviously scandalized — and young Charlie revels in the attention and the gossip it will spur. When a glum and disaffected cocktail waitress (and classmate of innocent young Charlie) spots the costly ring Uncle Charlie gave his niece, her attention and gaze snap into focus and she dreamily intones how she’d do anything for a ring like that, “yes sire, for a ring like that, I’d just die.” Young Charlie’s father and neighbor while away their evenings in gruesome, detailed, and cheerful contemplations of how they would murder each other. The potential for corruption is everywhere, and especially in young Charlie, who fervently believes that she and her sometimes sinister uncle are an alike in personality as they are in name. Hitchcock reinforces this theme by showing Charlie and Charlie in parallel positions, reeling off similar ruminations on the emptiness of life and the futility of the mundane. Young Charlie insists on the importance of their emotional connection: that they are more than “just an uncle and a niece — it’s something else.” Not only does that reinforce the unnerving idea that niece and uncle share a monstrous nature, but it also hints at an idea tapped again and again in the story: that their relationship is not that of uncle and niece, but, well, “something else.” Notably, Uncle Charlie presents young Charlie with a lavish emerald ring and tenderly puts it onto her finger, looking more like a lover proposing than an uncle giving a gift to his niece. That ring is the source of Charlie’s rankling doubts; though a policeman later gives young Charlie even greater reason to doubt (and tries to supplant her uncle in her affections), the engagement ring with its tell-tale engraving plants the first shadow of a doubt in her fertile imagination.
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!
>>>Dennis suggests Sleepwalk With Me (in Comedy.) A guy walks through a closed, second-floor window. That’s not the start of a joke. It was, however, the impetus behind “Sleepwalk with Me,” a one-man stage show, comedy album, book and now feature film from comedian, monologist and now movie director Mike Birbiglia. A few years ago while on tour in Walla Walla, Wash., Birbiglia had a nightmare that a nuclear missile was heading straight for his hotel room. A longtime sufferer of a rare sleep disorder, he dreamed that he leaped out of bed and right through that closed window, landing on the lawn and then in the emergency room, where he received 33 stitches. And some great material for his stand-up act. Birbiglia’s stand-up, always autobiographical, has a dreamy, sleepy-eyed, everyman persona belying masterful storytelling skills that can turn a seemingly mundane tale into something spellbinding. (He’s like Spalding Gray crossed with Joel Hodgson of “Mystery Science Theater 3000.”) The stage version of “Sleepwalk with Me” chronicled the comic’s struggles to find his voice, navigate his relationship with his longtime girlfriend (played in the film by Lauren Ambrose of “Six Feet Under”) and cope with a worsening condition that causes him to act out his dreams in often unpredictable ways. The film version, which was directed by Birbiglia and co-written with Ira Glass (“This American Life”) and others, is a trimmed-down version of the stage production and shaped into a more straightforward narrative in which Birbiglia’s problems stem from his unwillingness to confront things head-on. He doesn’t fully commit himself to his career, his relationship or, you know, finding a way to make sure he doesn’t jump out a window in his sleep — and finds out the damage that results. He addresses the camera directly, and his shared understanding of his own foolishness is both funny and sad. “I know,” he assures the audience after a particularly egregious misstep, “I’m in the future also” Like most one-person shows, it’s a journey of comic and personal growth with some killer jokes throughout, and Birbiglia (or his lightly fictionalized film version, Matt Pandamiglio) lends each development an utterly endearing layer of self-deprecation, even when his actions aren’t particularly laudable. If there’s a knock on the film, it’s that first-time director Birbiglia doesn’t yet possess comedian Birbiglia’s storytelling virtuosity. His decision to visualize some of his more unusual sleepwalking dreams yields some surreal laughs, but some sequences (like those with his parents, played by the undeniably talented Carol Kane and James Rebhorn) lack the snap of his carefully crafted anecdotes, coming more as service to the film’s streamlined plot. But I’m being picky. “Sleepwalk with Me” is a moving, hilarious and deeply personal comedy about one guy’s realization that just going along as if everything’s fine is a one-way ticket to, well, lying in your underpants on the glass-strewn lawn of a cheap hotel.
Reprinted from Dennis’ column in the Portland Press Herald, because it is Christmas Day and he is very tired and also somewhat lazy.
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!
>>>Dennis suggests bidding goodbye to the grandfather of all character actors, Charles Durning. Seemed like the kind of guy who’d show up in movies forever, didn’t he? Maybe it’s because hes been in literally every fourth movie you’ve ever seen in your life. I’d recommend your own Durning-fest with the following: During as Jessica Lange’s gruff, loving he-man dad (his best role) who, unfortunately, becomes smitten with Dustin Hoffman’s alter ego in Tootsie (Comedy), Durning as the bewildered private eye in Brian DePalma’s fun, twisted Sisters (Criterion Collection), Durning as the corrupt cop chasing Robert Redford all over The
Sting (Comedy), Durning as the overworked, New York cop trying to corral the media circus in Dog Day Afternoon (Action), Durning as the President, trying to hold off a nuclear coup in Twilight’s Last Gleaming (Classics), Durning as a shady, ill-fated doctor, reteaming with Brian DePalma in The Fury, Durning menacing Kermit as the comically evil frog leg-hocker Doc Hopper in the original Muppet Movie (Children’s section), Durning as the unscrupulous, winning-is-everything football coach in the really quite good North Dallas Forty (Drama),Durning as yet another cop, this time telling babysitter Carol Kane where the calls are coming from in When a Stranger Calls (Mystery/Thriller), Durning as buffonish Nazi “Concentration Camp” Erhardt in Mel Brooks’ To Be or Not to Be (Comedy),Durning squaring off with James Woods in the overlooked Cop, where he may play a cop (Mystery/Thriller), Durning as the comically conflicted corporate head in the Coen Brothers’ The Hudsucker Proxy (Drama), Durning as Santa in Elmo Saves Christmas (Children’s), Durning as the befuddled dad of the dysfunctional family in Home for the Holidays (Comedy), Durning as Santa (again!) in Mrs. Santa Claus (Comedy), Durning being blusterily evil for the Coen’s again in O Brother, Where Art Thou? (Comedy), Durning as the put-upon mayor dealing with an invading Hollywood film crew in State and Main (Comedy), and Durning as Denis Leary’s gruff dad on ‘Rescue Me’ (in Drama.) Adios to one of the best working actors ever…
Free Kids Friday! One free rental from the Kids section, no other rental necessary!
>>> Kids like movies. Take one for free.
Having a Wild Weekend! Rent two movies, and get a third one for free from any section!
>>>For Saturday, Dennis suggests Manny & Lo (in Feature Drama.) This is one of those little indie films that no one remembers, no one ever rents, and, frankly, is ever in danger of fading away into the limbo where, regretfully, all such non-rent-paying minor films end up. (I may have saved it from that fate once or twice. Don’t tell Videoport’s owner Bill. Wait, what? Bill reads this newsletter? Heh- ummm…moving on…) I dunno- sometimes a little movie like this just finds a soft spot in a video clerk’s heart- cultivating such connections with us lowly drones should really be something indie directors should look into. It’s a gimmicky little tale on one level- two runaway sisters try to stay out of the way of everyone seeking to “help” them by sticking to America’s backroads and occasionally boosting what they need. Unfortunately, the elder sister is pregnant and, fearing that they won’t know how to deal when her time comes, the two kidnap a chatty clerk at a maternity store. For one thing, in the hand of director Lisa Krueger, this is one of the rare movies where the Bechdel Test meter is off the charts. You know the Bechdel Test, right? Coined by writer/cartoonist Alison Bechdel, it’s a simple yet mind-blowing yardstick to apply to any work of fiction- 1. Are there at least two women therein? 2. Do they talk to each other? 3. If so, do they talk about something, anything, other than a man? It’s not a high bar to set, but if you actually think about it, it’s absolutely shocking how many works, even great ones, fail to meet that meager standard but Manny & Lo is refreshingly at ease allowing three female characters to simply talk to each other. But unexpectedly, the real rewards of a minor-key film like this stem from the performances- that’s little Scarlet Johansson as the sensible younger sister, and, while she might not have ScarJo’s Avengers-style popularity, Aleksa Palladino, as the preggers elder sis has gone on to consistently solid work in things like The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire. And, as the seemingly flighty clerk, whose motormouthed patter gradually reveals some of those hidden depths that indie films truck in so effectively, old pro Mary Kay Place gives perhaps her best performance. So c’mon…help a good, little movie stay alive in the collective memory.
>>>For Sunday, Dennis suggests Jeff, Who Lives At Home (in Comedy.) Here’s what you should do: rent these movies at Videoport. The Puffy Chair (in Comedy), Baghead (in Incredibly Strange), Cyrus (in Comedy), The Do-Deca-Pentathalon (in Incredibly Strange.) Oh, and this one (in Comedy.) They’re all written and directed by Mark and Jay Duplass (the Duplass Brothers) who, while nowhere near as famous as the Coen Brothers, have had a similarly, if more quietly, influential effect on the landscape of American independent film. Sure, they’re not household names as yet (although Mark, who’s acted in things like Safety Not Guaranteed and the funny show ‘The League’) has a little name recognition, and, sure, their signature brand of naturalistic, improv-heavy indie comedy/dramas have been slapped with the label “mumblecore” by the least original and creative film critics and viewers, but anyone who actually pays attention to what’s truly interesting in the American indie scene knows that the Duplasses, without fail, are producing some of the most satisfyingly unique films out there. In Cyrus, the DB’s were able to attract some name actors to their indie clubhouse (John C. Reilly, Marisa Tomei, Jonah Hill) for a refreshingly, unnervingly, singular take on a potentially cliched comedy trope. Continuing that trend, their Jeff, Who Lives At Home takes a similarly shopworn idea (the slacker with a serious case of arrested development) and, in their hands and those of a great name cast (Jason Segel, Ed Helms, Judy Greer, Susan Sarandon) craft something consistently surprising and satisfying. Segel is Jeff, a thirtysomething pothead living his his forebearing (if weary) mom’s basement, seemingly content with watching TV and cultivating his obsession with, of all things, M. Night Shyamalan’s movie Signs and its idea of the interconnectedness of things which seem, to the non-stoned, to be mere coincidences. Sent on an errand by his hardworking mom (Sarandon), Jeff finds himself accidentally (or is it?) reconnecting with his estranged elder brother (Helms), an unhappily married wage slave who views his little brother’s obsessions and scrounging with the same abrasive dismissiveness that typifies his relationship with wife Judy Greer. As the two brothers are tossed together on a series of misadventures and their office worker mom finds herself in the midst of a similar, seemingly random series of events at work, the film is never anything but winning and smart. And while canny viewers may suspect that there are plot twists based on the film’s premise coming, each step of the way is never less than engaging and surprising in the hands of the actors and the sure hands of the writer-directors. All four actors (and the aging-very-gracefully Rae Dawn Chong) create characters with real depth, and the end, when it comes, pulls all the threads together in a way that illuminates the film’s title in a way that made me view the main character in a particularly moving and surprising way. It was almost…Shyamalan-esque, except it didn’t make me want to smack someone. Great work from all involved.
New Releases this week at Videoport: The Words (Bradley Cooper made his first bid for serious leading man status with this drama about a struggling writer who tries to pass of the work of a reclusive old man [Jeremy Irons] as his own), They Call It Myanmar: Lifting the Veil (documentary about one of the most perpetually-repressed countries in forever- the place known as Burma, or Myanmar), the following are COMING OUT ON MONDAY 12/31/12 (Because the holiday season has completely screw up everything): ‘Justified’- season 3 (Timothy Olyphant continues to squint and growl menacingly at all the lowlifes that modern day cowboy life has to offer), Looper (director Rian Johnson reunites with his Brick star Joseph Gordon Leavitt in this time travel tale of a hitman sent into the future to assassinate…himself!!! in the form of Bruce Willis)