Volume CDXX- Sherlock Holmes And The Mystery Of Who Thought We Needed A Ghost Rider Sequel
For the Week of 9/3/13
Videoport gives you a free movie every day. Who has a problem with that? No one, that’s who.
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!
>>> Emily S. Customer suggests misery porn! This is less a review than a ramble. Be warned. When I’m feeling ill, I often turn to movies that show me someone who is still more miserable. Rosemary’s Baby has become a flu-season favorite chez nous because at least I know Rosemary, swelling and sore and scared and sad, feels worse than I do, and for sure her neighbors are worse. But misery porn doesn’t have to be artful or even particularly competent: I recently indulged in the flaccid, overblown soft-sci-fi thriller The Cell, which stars Vincent D’Onofrio as a particularly lurid serial killer in a coma and Jennifer Lopez as the social worker/psychotherapist who has to enter his unconscious to learn the location of his most recent victim. It’s gaudy and ambitiously visual, but all that is offset, both by the grimy avidity of the victimization and by the film’s complete narrative collapse. It’s like one long NIN video, minus the NIN. Mr. Brooks. Some time ago, a desperate flu reduced me to watching Mr. Brooks, which features Kevin Costner as a mild-mannered cardboard-box magnate (I KNOW) who spends his free time stalking and killing his carefully selected victims with engineer-like precision and an artist’s flair. His wife and college-age daughter have no idea their beloved husband/father is The Other Portland’s most-feared serial killer, you see, because Mr. Brooks keeps his life so compartmentalized LIKE IN BOXES, YOU GUYS. GET IT? IT’S VERY SYMBOLIC, I HOPE YOU ARE SOPHISTICATED ENOUGH TO GET IT. (I say “most-feared serial killer” advisedly: in this film universe, apparently Portland, Oregon, supports a thriving network of serial killers.) It’s a pretty vile film all the way around, but William Hurt gets to sink his teeth into the scenery and feast on it in shreds, which is always worth seeing.
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!
>>>Dennis suggests playing a game of “best last lines ever” (in Classics.) Does it seem like movies never end on a great last line any more? No, I’m not gonna spoil ‘em for you here, but my picks would be Casablanca (of course), King Kong (1933), Some Like It Hot (my pick for best ever), Little Caesar, The Maltese Falcon, and Dr. Strangelove. Rent ‘em and see…
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 Maria Bamford-Plan B (in Comedy.) With Bamford’s new standup CD Ask Me About My New God! out now (and easily the best comedy CD of the year), it’s the perfect time to take home Plan B, her DVD performance from a few years ago. Watching Bamford is a singular experience—her jokes are outstanding, sure, but her presentation is truly unique. She does a lot of voices, it’s true, but they’re not a stunt—in her free-flowing act (what she refers to at one point as her “quiet, odd joke-stories”) her ability to slip in and out of characters serves to enhance her performances into something uniquely brilliant. And hilarious—don’t forget that, too. The funniest woman in the world right now.
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 Knuckleball (in Documentary.) Of course, being the guy in a Red Sox jersey 90% of the time, you guys might expect me to be a soft touch for this documentary, focusing largely as it does on former Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield. You’d be right, of course (I do have a Wakefield jersey) but I can honestly say that this is a solid watch for anyone who likes baseball, sports, or maybe just a good underdog story. Because, as the doc makes clear, all knuckleball pitchers are underdogs, getting no respect from their peers, their managers, or their fair-weather fans, no matter what success they have throwing baseball’s most mysterious and eccentric pitch. For those not in the know, a knuckleball is thrown with the fingertips, a slower pitch released with as little rotation on the ball as humanly possible. What that means, in the world of physics, is that a thrown ball will be unpredictably susceptible to suggestion—the lack of rotation means the ball will move according to the whims of air currents, wind, and, in a distant third place, the will of the pitcher to get the ball over the plate. For knuckleballers like Wake, R.A. Dickey and the older pitchers profiled in the film, harnessing the potential of the knuckleball is like trying to toss a butterfly past a burly guy with a very, very big butterfly net. And the unpredictable nature of their chosen pitch is only half the battle—knuckleballers traditionally get no respect from anyone. Their pitch is considered a gimmick, a fluke, and something anyone can learn to do. Their successes are considered a sideshow, their failures inevitable—they’re put up with for as long as the butterfly keeps fluttering, and cast aside as soon as it gets crushed. Batters don’t respect a knuckleballer for getting them out—what they’re throwing isn’t a real, manly fastball. They’re just tricksters. Only the thing is, the battle between pitcher and batter is a one-on-one contest of skill. One guy is gonna try to get the other guy to miss, the other guy is gonna try to hit—if you can’t hit a legal pitch, then you lose, Mr. Spoilsport, and that’s all there is to it. Another strike against knuckleballers (and another reason why they make such noble heroes) is that no one ever starts out to be one. They all start out as traditional pitchers (or in Wakefield’s case, a first baseman) whose careers didn’t work out the way they’d planned—because of injury, or failure, each man eventually turned to the knuckler in desperation, the last, desperate handhold on the way over the cliff. There are only ever one or two knuckleballers in the majors at a time (right now, Dickey’s the only one), and they tend to last, when they last, for a very long time, since the pitch doesn’t put such a demand on the arm. Wakefield, who pitched until he was 45 (the last 19 years or so with the Sox) epitomizes how easy it is to love the average knuckleballer. Seen in his last season, Wakefield trudges out onto the field with a bowlegged gait like John Wayne (or a middle-aged man with hemorrhoids), a suburban dad’s pot belly making it look more like he was heading out to light the barbecue. And then he starts to throw and sometimes the pitch isn’t working and all he can do is stare after balls launched a very, very long way. But sometimes the pitch is dancing and he makes the best hitters in the world look absolutely foolish. It’s a fascinating, little understood side of baseball that the film examines with understanding, and love.
Free Kids Friday! One free rental from the Kids section, no other rental necessary!
>>>It’s a free movie. It’s for kids. And kids-at-heart.
Having a Wild Weekend! Rent two movies, and get a third one for free from any section!
>>>For Saturday, Dennis suggests Stories We Tell (in Documentary.) I’m not going to tell you much about Sarah Polley’s new documentary “Stories We Tell,” But by the end of this review, you’re going to want to see it. It’s a neat trick, but then so is “Stories We Tell,” in which actress/filmmaker Polley interviews members of her family about their shared experience of Polley’s mother Diane. As the film begins, Polley is setting up the interviews, with each subject more or less uncomfortable about what she’s asking them to do. “Just tell the whole story from beginning to end,” she instructs, adding jokingly to her father Michael, “We’ve told you it’s a documentary. But it’s an interrogation process.” You’ll most likely recognize Polley, a former child actress (“The Adventures of Baron Munchausen”) turned talented adult actress (“The Sweet Hereafter,” “Slings & Arrows”) turned acclaimed director (“Take This Waltz,” “Away From Her”). Here, she turns her cameras on her family and herself, a conceit that risks wearing thin: The story of the Polley family has more than its share of twists and turns, certainly, but, in an age where even the most minor celebrities’ lives are scrutinized on one screen or another, one might be tempted to ask why this actress’ life should be the subject of a major documentary. What elevates “Stories We Tell” to something both riveting and heartbreaking, is Polley’s approach to her family’s history, which incorporates an examination of the act of telling, and memory, into the structure of the film itself. And here’s where I’m going to be a little cagey, since one of the chief pleasures of the film is the way Polley’s storytelling technique gradually reveals details of Diane’s life in ways which change the viewer’s perceptions of her, and everything that’s been said to that point. Polley springs the first such twist at the 20 minute mark, and then keeps them coming, each successive revelation forcing the viewer to reexamine what’s come before, and what it says about each teller. As the various voices, and versions, pile up, the films starts to build its theme as well: Who we are becomes distorted by the lives we touch, our very essence transformed by the myriad reflections of memory and perception until objective truth becomes nearly impossible. (Polley reinforces her theme by almost imperceptibly using authentic-looking footage of actress Rebecca Jenkins to supplement actual home movies of her mother throughout the film, the meta-textual sleight-of-hand muddying the notion of truth right in front of our eyes.) The dominant voice among the interviewees is Michael Polley, Sarah’s British-born father, who recounts his version of Diane’s story from the memoir he’s written. Narrating his family’s often painful history in the third person, Michael is almost unbearably affecting, his melodious, querulous old man’s voice observed from the recording studio’s control room by Sarah, whose expression remains enigmatically sad, for reasons we only understand by degree. Their relationship is the heart of the story—two people still working through the way Diane’s actions are affecting them, and those they love, even decades later. As Polley laments late in the film, “I can’t figure out why I’m exposing us all in this way. Trying to form her…from other people’s words? Trying to put her together from the wreckage, and her slipping away from us.” “Stories We Tell” is Polley’s achingly poignant tribute to her family, and the woman whose restless spirit haunts them all.
(Reprinted from Dennis’ Press Herald review—send your reviews to firstname.lastname@example.org to avoid such things in the future…)
>>>For Sunday, Dennis suggests getting yourself some 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.
New Releases this week at Videoport: Now You See Me (flamboyant stage magicians Jesse Eisenberg, Morgan Freeman, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, and Michael Caine keep robbing banks with their magic tricks, which is very frustrating to cop Mark Ruffalo in this comedy thriller), Spartacus: War of the Damned- season 3 (Liam McIntyre returns as Spartacus, still bedeviling the Roman Empire with his sword and his hunkiness), Scandal- season 2 (everyone agrees that this is the season where Scandal goes crazy, but in a good way; starring the excellent Kerry Washington as her crisis management consultant keeps delving into the sordid lives of Washington power players), Haven- season 3 (continuing series based on a Stephen King tale sees an FBI agent lending her investigative help to the police department of the titular Maine town, which continues to be the center of supernatural evil and whatnot, as apparently all small Maine towns are…), From Up On Poppy Hill (for most of us, all I have to say is “NEW MIYAZAKI MOVIE!”, but for the rest, this is another touching, gorgeously animated film from the Japanese master’s Studio Ghibli; written by Miyazaki and directed by his son Goro), The Lords Of Salem (Rob Zombie is back making the sort of over-the-top horror you just know a young Robbie Zombie dreamed about; this time, his wife Sherry Moon Zombie is the target of a coven of witches), The Office- season 9 (one of the best sitcoms ever says goodbye; is it banking on your affection at this point? Sure—but it’s still a solidly funny farewell), Sharknado (it’s a tornado full of sharks—what more do you want?), The Iceman (ever-terrifying Michael Shannon stars in this true tale of a loving family man who was also one of the most feared hitmen in America), Parks And Recreation- season 5 (one of the best sitcoms ever [I know I said that about The Office, but it’s true here, too], with comedic force of nature Amy Poehler returning as small town politician Leslie Knope alongside the best ensemble cast on TV), Empire State (Dwayne “call me The Rock again and I’ll suplex you” Johnson continues to enliven action pictures, this time as a New York cop on the trail of the loot from a huge armored car heist perpetrated by dum dum Liam Hemsworth), The League- season 4 (Nick Kroll, Paul Scheer, Mark Duplass, Katie Aselton, and the rest return in this reliably funny comedy series about some arrested adolescents using their fantasy football league to do very rude things), Da Vinci’s Demons- season 1 (Leonardo Da Vinci gets the Borgia’s treatment in this lavish historical drama series about the legendary inventor/scientist), Stories We Tell (fascinating documentary from equally fascinating actress/director Sarah Polley [Away From Her, The Sweet Hereafter] about the strange and surprising history of her family; don’t let anyone spoil this one for you…), It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia- season 8 (I’m frankly shocked that this sitcom, about a quintet of the worst people in the world doing awful, awful things, is still as painfully funny as it is—but it is), Revolution- season 1 (this is that sci fi series about how all the power in the world went out and everything went crazy; it does star the great Giancarlo Esposito [Breaking Bad’s Gus Fring], so that’s something…), Cockneys vs. Zombies (it’s all right there in the title, people…), The English Teacher (Julianne Moore stars as the titular educator, a contented spinster who stirs herself to help out a former star pupil whose father is pressuring him to give up his dreams of being a playwright), Sinbad- season 1 (they made a swashbuckling adventure series about Sinbad! You know, the legendary adventurer, not the standup comic—didn’t mean to scare anyone…), The Reluctant Fundamentalist (Mira Nair directs this thriller about the journey of an America-loving Muslim investment banker to a radical teacher accused of being a terrorist; starring Liev Schreiber and Keifer Sutherland), Bomb Girls- season 1 (WWII series about a quartet of British women working in a munitions factory and dealing with men being jerks…oh and the war), Arthur Newman (Colin Firth stars as a harried man who fakes his death in order to start over, only to meet a woman [Emily Blunt] also fleeing her past)