VideoReport #397

Volume CCCXCVII- Star Wars: Episode 7- What’s In The Box?!?!?

For the Week of 3/26/13

Videoport gives you a free movie every single mother-lovin’ day! Yeah!!!

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 asks the cinematic question “What’s in the box!?!?” Tilda Swinton, acclaimed actress and honored visitor from The Planet of the Bowie People, is reprising her installation/performance piece “The Maybe” by sleeping in a glass box at the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art. (“The Maybe” was originally conceived and produced by Swinton and Joanna Scanlon [“Little Britain,” and later recreated by Swinton and Cornelia Parker.) In honor of Tilda Swinton and “The Maybe,” we offer you a round-up of Swinton’s marvelous repertoire, as well as a smattering of films that ask the age-old question: “WHAT’S IN THE BOX?” For Monday, enjoy Swinton’s icy determination and steely gaze as she hunts the perfectly engineered child assassin in Hanna, or watch her face off against George Clooney’s Michael Clayton as the high-powered legal counsel for a suspect corporation.

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 Constantine (in Classics.) If your movie featured an ethereal androgynous otherworldly creature of heavenly lineage, who would you cast? TILDA SWINTON, that’s who. And that’s why she’s front-and-center (or maybe I mean high-and-mighty) in Constantine as the angel Gabriel, to whom Constantine (Keanu Reeves) must appeal for mercy when he needs some mortality wiggle-room to fight demons on this earthly plane.

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 continues to ask, What’s in the box? Maybe it’s Schrödinger’s cat, a quantum physics thought experiment which posits a cat inside a box who is simultaneously both alive and dead as two distinct realities co-exist until the observer opens the box. The supernerds at “Futurama” play with the idea of Schrödinger’s cat in the sixth-season episode Law & Oracle (S6, ep16), in which newly appointed Officer Philip J. Fry of the Future Crimes Division stops legendary physicist Erwin Schrödinger and discovers he is in possession of a mysterious box. And, y’know, some other stuff.

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!

>>>Elsa S. Customer suggests A Serious Man (in Comedy.) For a more complex thematic play on Schrödinger’s box, we turn to the Coen brothers. Their darkly comic A Serious Man uses the uncertainty of quantum mechanics — and especially the unresolvable uncertainty of Schrödinger’s paradox — as a metaphor for the unpredictability of life, and the pains we nonetheless take in futile attempts to impose predictability on the inherently uncertain future. Physics professor Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) is suddenly a man beleaguered — by fate, by coincidence, by a vengeful God? Who knows? His marriage is in trouble, his job is in danger, his brother is ill, both mentally and physically (and sleeping, and seeping, on Larry’s couch), his children are sullen and misbehaved. Buffeted by uncertainty, Larry turns to the his community, to his rabbis. He’s looking not for advice, but for something more concrete: for answers. [SPOILERS ahead.] Larry assures these studied, somber men that he can grapple with the greatness of God — that he too is a serious man capable of understanding, if only they will tell him why these hardships are befalling him. If you believe in an omniscient, all-powerful god, surely it’s plain hubris for a layperson to think that he can, through a mere few days of application and inquiry, grasp the unknowable purpose of that deity’s actions. Job finally wailed his way into an audience with God and still didn’t get an answer, but Larry Gopnik thinks he can wrest one out of a few conversations with rabbis. The impossibility, the futility, of his task is emphasized by the very name the rabbis use to refer to the God whom Larry find so approachable: not Adonai, not Yahweh, not any of the names that can be spoken in worship, but HaShem, literally “the name.” Larry cannot grasp the ineffable plans of the god he seeks; he cannot even hear His name. Larry’s field of study has perhaps emboldened him to such audacity. Physicists are able to fathom some of the great universe and even represent them through equations, but Larry of all people should know that the ineffable doesn’t yield to cold hard logic and that not everything is knowable: his specialty is quantum mechanics, and we only see Larry teaching his students about uncertainty.  In a dream, Larry presents his class with a breathlessly rapid and precise presentation of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, concluding as he writes, “It proves we can’t ever really know what’s going on.” The bell rings; class dismissed. As the students bustle out, Prof. Gopnik yells out “But even though you can’t figure anything out, you will be responsible for it on the mid-term!” Compare this with Larry’s comically inept real-life lecture: he tap-taps at the blackboard with his chalk, writing a complex formula and narrating his progress with vague, uninstructive mutters: “You following this?… okay?.. so… this part is exciting…. so, okay. So. So if that’s that, then we can do this, right? Is that right? Isn’t that right? And that’s Schrödinger’s paradox, right? Is the cat dead or is the cat not dead? Okay!” Later, a student comes to Prof. Gopnik’s office to complain about his failing grade. He can’t do the mathematics, he explains, but “I understand the physics. I understand the dead cat.” Larry gently but firmly informs him, “But you can’t really understand the physics without understanding the math. The math tells how it really works. That’s the real thing. The stories I give you in class are just illustrative. They’re like… fables, say, to help give you the picture. I mean… even I don’t understand the dead cat.” And it’s true: he doesn’t understand the dead cat or the fables. And neither do we. The Coens have already reminded us of this in the opening scene: a period piece, a haunting little story about a dybbuk (or is it?) performed in Yiddish. The first 7 minutes of the film are spent with characters we never see again, speaking a language most of the audience doesn’t understand, grappling with a mystery that will never be solved. Larry Gopnik is in search of a reality that doesn’t exist, some tangible proof to decipher the future. He’s a serious man who expects his intelligence and diligence to render the confusing, unpredictable world into something logical, legible, verifiable. Larry is not so different from his poor lost brother, the unstable wanderer with a dog-eared notebook scrawled through with an elaborate “probability map of the universe.” Though the larger secrets of the universe can be revealed by study and science, the smaller mysteries — the ones that matter most to us, our lives and our loves — are not susceptible to our tiny writings and equations, however hard we try. Our futures cannot be predicted with mathematical accuracy, and often they cannot even be understood as they unfold. So, if the meaningful, fateful events of our little lives cannot be predicted or controlled or even fully understood, how are we to extract any meaning from this existence? I think A Serious Man answers that question in its first 20th-century scene: from the 19th century shtetl, the camera hurtles us down a dark passage outlined in blushing light and thrumming with intense music… which turns out to be the ear canal of Danny, Larry’s teenaged son, as he sits in class with a transistor earpiece illicitly jammed into his ear so he can listen to Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love” instead of his Hebrew lesson. The Jefferson Airplane song recurs as a chorus throughout the film. When Larry is at his most distraught — after his fruitless meetings with rabbis and lawyers, as he is crushed under the weight of accumulating troubles, when he despairs of ever find the answer he sought — the song blasts out as the soundtrack to an erotic dream. And again, after Danny’s bar mitzvah (where he becomes, like his father, “a serious man”), the elusive Rabbi Marshak finally appears, intoning these heavily-accented words of wisdom to the stuporously stoned boy-become-man: “When the truth turns out to be lies and all the joy within you dies. Then what?” As trite as it may sound, Jefferson Airplane delivers the answer: “You better find somebody to love.” This is the last message of A Serious Man: in the film’s very last moments, as the literal whirlwind (echoing the whirlwind from which God spoke to Job) bears down on a crowd of children milling around a parking lot, we hear it again through Danny’s earpiece: “You better find somebody to love.” And if that person leaves you or betrays you or dies or vanishes, you must find another, and another, and another: a spouse, a parent, a sibling, a child, a neighbor, a student, a rival, a friend. No matter what befalls you in this unpredictable, sometimes cruel world, you better find somebody to love, because love — giving love, creating kindness and passion and selflessness where there was nothing — is a powerful act of affirmation against uncertainty, an act of creation in a void. Maybe even a divine act: to find somebody to love.

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

>>>Elsa S. Customer suggests Escape to Witch Mountain. Sometimes the question isn’t “What’s in the box?” but “What is that box?” In Escape to Witch Mountain, the answer is simple and complicated. The box in question belongs to Tia and Tony Malone, two children newly assigned to institutional life since the death of their adoptive parents. It’s Tia’s star case, and it appears to be a precious keepsake. But it also contains clues that will lead the two on a great adventure, one that I won’t begin to spoil here. But I can tell you that, y’know, they go to Witch Mountain.

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

>>>For Saturday, Elsa S. Customer says, Tilda Swinton’s not the only big name to rate a custom-made glass prison. In The Avengers, SHIELD imprisons Loki in a glass prison (and look how well that worked out for them). X-Men‘s Magneto can defeat any prison built of metal and must be confined to a Perspex cell, which is impervious to his superpowers and also looks supercool on film. Even confined to his underground stone-and-glasschamber, Silence of the Lambs‘ Dr. Hannibal Lecter remains so dangerous that every visitor must be briefed on the protocol: “Do not touch the glass. Do not approach the glass. You pass him nothing but soft paper – no pencils or pens. No staples or paperclips in his paper. Use the sliding food carrier, no exceptions. If he attempts to pass you anything, do not accept it.” Yikes.

>>>For Sunday, Elsa S. Customer asks, well you know… Barton Fink, Se7en, Mulholland Dr. What’s in the box? What is in the box? WHAT’S IN THE BOX?

Yup, you'll be givin' me that Oscar now, I reckon...

Yup, you’ll be givin’ me that Oscar now, I reckon…

New Releases this week at Videoport: Lincoln (Daniel Day Lewis won the best actor Oscar for playing Abraham Lincoln; which is the most inevitable sentence that was ever written…), ‘Veep’- season 1 (Julia Louis-Dreyfuss brings her comic awesomeness back to TV in this HBO comedy series about America’s first female vice president who, surrounded by her enthusiastically blundering staff, gets all the respect a vice president deserves- which is not a lot; great supporting cast click for av club reviews!including Matt Walsh and Tony Hale- from the creator of In the Loop), Cheerful Weather for the Wedding (indie comedy about a young woman whose uncertainty over her upcoming marriage throws her entire family, fiancee, and former lover into a tizzy), Tatsumi (animated biography about titular Japanese comics writer Yoshihiro Tatsumi), ‘Shakespeare Uncovered’ (Shakespearean actors of all generations give their take on their various roles they’ve played; featuring the likes of Derek Jacobi, Ethan Hawke, David Tennant, Anthony click for av club review!Quayle, David Warner, Joely Richardson, and Jeremy Irons), A Royal Affair (based on a true story, this sumptuous historical drama chronicles the affair between the British princess married to the insane king of Denmark and the king’s enlightened, hunky physician), Parental Guidance (Billy Crystal and Bette Midler are the comically crusty grandparents taking care of their grandkids, with their ipods, and their big jeans, and their hula hoops; SPOILER alert! Crystal may get hit comically in the nuts!), GLOW: Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (documentary about the 1980s women’s wrestling league that featured lots and lots of spandex), Easy Money (Swedish crime thriller starring the guy from ‘The Killing’ about a young social climber who turns to ill-advised crime to support his lifestyle), The Collection (remember that horror movie The Collector about a serial killer in a creepy mask? No? Well, there was one, and now there’s this sequel about the one guy who escaped the first time as he’s blackmailed into trying to save a woman now in the madman’s clutches), The Comedy (Tim Heidecker of Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! stars in this utterly divisive indie, click for av club review!an upsetting character study of a deliberately unpleasant trust-fund slacker who deals with his father’s impending death by being as much of a jerk as possible), ‘The Borgias’- season 2 (just in time for the new pope comes the second season of this sexy. sexy series about the sexiest, evil-est pope of all time; with the ever-sleazy and sexy Jeremy Irons doing his thing), Alois Nebel (animated thriller about a train dispatcher whose humble life in Soviet-era Czechoslovakia is upended by the arrival of a mute stranger with a mysterious photo- and an axe), Funeral Kings (indie comedy about a pair of altar boys who decide to play hooky and get in trouble after serving in a seemingly endless series of funerals), ‘How I Met Your Mother’- season 7 (nope- he hasn’t met her yet, but at least we’ve got Neil Patrick Harris, Allyson Hannigan, and Jason Segel to keep us company), Toys In the Attic (more stunning Czech animation, this time a weirder, darker Toy Story about some clockwork playthings trying to save one of their number from a creepy kidnapping statue; from legendary animator Jiri Barta and featureing the voices of Forest Whitaker, Cary Elwes, and Joan Cusack), My Worst Nightmare (French comedy about respectable career woman Isabelle Huppert whose comfy life is upset when her son becomes friends with the son of a boozing career criminal, played by the guy who played the serial killer in the insane Man Bites Dog), Paul Williams Still Alive (documentary about the diminutive singer, songwriter, and actor [The Muppet Movie, Smokey and the Bandit, Phantom of the Paradise]), All Together (French comedy about five old friends [including Jane Fonda and Geraldine Chaplin] who decide to move click for av club reviews!in together rather than go to a retirement home), and four, count ‘em four new episodes of Mystery Science Theater! Check the Incredibly Strange Section for Joel, Mike and the ‘bots cracking wise at the likes of: The Magic Sword, Alien From LA, Danger!! Death Ray, and The Mole People! Yeah!

New Arrivals at Videoport this week: Monsieur Verdoux (the Criterion Collection brings out their typically lavish reissue of this lost Chaplin masterpiece; a dark comedy/drama about a charming swindler who poisons ladies in order to support his dying wife; this one pretty much sunk Chaplin’s career), The Duke (new kids movie! It’a about a dog!), Ernie Kovacs: The ABC Specials (pioneering TV comic Kovacs looked at this new TV gizmo and thought, “I could totally mess around with this” back in the 50s; you should check these out…), and for fans of good ol’ British murder, Videoport’s bringing in more than a dozen new DVDs of Midsomer Murders!

New Releases on Blu Ray this week at Videoport: Lincoln, The Collection, Holy Motors

VideoReport #1,000,000 is coming!

Get free money at Videoport!

Look, we know you love us. And you’re gonna keep spending your hard-earned rental dollars here (and not on some scratched DVDs plunked out from a plastic vending machine in a scabby 7-11 parking lot), so why not get yourself some free money. Yup- prepay $20 on your Videoport account, and we give you $25 worth of rental credit. And if you prepay $30, we give you $40 worth of rental credit. That’s just free money you’re leaving on the table, people.

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