For the Week of 5/27/14
Videoport gives you a free movie every single day. That’s some free happiness every single day. What can we say—we love making people happy.
Middle Aisle Monday! Take a free rental from the Science Fiction, Horror, Incredibly Strange, Popular Music, 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 Home Movies (in Animation.) It’s tough out there for a voice actor, but now that the great Jon Benjamin is getting some long-overdue adulation (since he voices the lead characters of two of the funniest shows currently on television—Bob’s Burgers and Archer), it’s time to look
back at Home Movies, one of the most enduringly funny and surprisingly sweet animated series ever. The story of Brendan, a gradeschooler with aspirations of being the world’s greatest movie director, the show strikes an inimitable balance of goofy, sharp, and adorable—with more than a touch of heart, even melancholy. Despite his inseparable friendship with pals/costars Melissa and Jason, and his combative but loving relationship with his single mother, Brendan’s a lonely kid, and an outsider, his eccentricities and his hobby making him worry far more than a little kid should. Perhaps that’s why he forms an unlikely friendship with his irascible, irresponsible soccer coach, John McGuirk (played, as is Jason, by Jon Benjamin.) As lonely and isolated in his own way as is Brendan, McGuirk finds himself drawn into the orbit of his odd student and his friends and family, much to everyone’s confusion and annoyance, and our hilarity. Honestly, I’d put McGuirk in my top twenty of all time TV characters—a uniquely ignorant, complexly silly character brought to life by Benjamin’s signature overweening overconfidence. (Benjamin also voices the equally weird Jason—who might just miss that top 20 list.) There’s so much to love about Home Movies—there’s a jazzy, improv-y verbal style that makes the laughs just roll along, one after another. But it’s Benjamin—and McGuirk—who truly take the show into some loopily resonant places. Do yourself a favor—this one’s just waiting to be discovered.
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 Bigger Than Life (in the Criterion Collection section.) You should rent this along with Martin Scorsese’s documentary A Personal Journey Through American Film (in the Documentary Arts section). In it, Scorsese waxes rhapsodic (with typical Scorsese fast talking enthusiasm) about this ahead of its time 1956 drama from director Nicholas Ray. In it, James Mason gives his riskiest performance as a loving family man and schoolteacher who becomes addicted to a new “miracle drug” intended to treat his many ailments and turns into one of the most frightening parental figures in screen history. Mason’s great as always, bringing his signature silky gravitas to the role of a normal guy who goes off the rails and, so doing, deconstructs the role of the “perfect father.” Sure, the muckraking aspect of the film (look out for the big, bad new drug…cortisone!) may be a little dated, but the drama itself is not. Another interesting sleeper unearthed by the good people at Criterion.
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 Legit- season 1 (in Comedy.) Videoport’s owner Bill, doing some of his mysterious boss research recently, revealed that neither disc of this new comedy series has rented. Like, not once. In more than a month. I mean, I know this wasn’t a big hit or anything (it got a second season on FX, but was recently cancelled), but not one rental? In a month? Pretty unprecedented. Which is a shame, because Legit, a showcase for Aussie standup comedian Jim Jeffries, is actually pretty funny. Like Louie or Seinfeld, it’s a sitcom purporting to show the life of a struggling standup comedian. It’s not as good as either of those shows, but it’s well worth catching—Jeffries’ shtick is that of a slobby, sort-of boorish stoner, but he’s got a sharp sensibility underlying the crudity. An outspoken atheist, Jeffries doesn’t get into that as much on the show, but the same willingness to rudely challenge oft-unquestioned beliefs and prejudices is part of Legit’s makeup. Living in a crappy house in LA where he’s trying to make it in showbiz, Jeffries ends up living with his sad sack divorced best friend (character actor Bakkedahl from The Heat), and Bakkedahl’s wheelchair-bound brother played by DJ Qualls. They go through the usual jerky motions, taking the sheltered kid to a strip club, getting him high, and so forth, but the thing that leavens Jeffries’ comedy, and the show, is that his heart is always in the right place. Jeffries’ comedy is of the “I’m just saying the hard truths that no one else has the guts to say,” which can be a haven for mean-spirited a-holery (see: Denis Leary, Adam Carolla, all of the Blue Collar Comedy jerks), but Jeffries, with his chipmunk teeth and inquisitive eyes, generally falls on the generous side of the spectrum, and the show has something of a thoughtful, melancholy vibe at times. Plus, lots of weed and fart jokes. C’mon—rent it already. Legit is getting lonely.
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!
>>> Emily S. Customer suggests Pennies From Heaven (in Musicals.) Last week, I recommended a retrospective of cinematographer Gordon Willis’ most influential films. But perhaps my favorite film of his was not only not especially influential; it was a flop. Pennies from Heaven, the bleak Depression-set musical starring Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters, was promoted with woeful clumsiness, selling it as a lavish look back at a glitzy Golden Age of film, when in reality it’s an affecting (if grim) character study of a man unsatisfied – and unsatisfiable – with the real world. Willis’ command of light and dark illustrates the ironies and passions of Arthur Parker (Steve Martin), a down-on-his-luck sheet music salesman who rejects all the pleasures and profit of this life while daydreaming about the satiny, soft-focus pleasures of the Silver Screen. Willis made the most of the contrasts between the bright, light, frothy seductions of Arthur’s imagination and the drab realities of his everyday life, shifting from the dazzling light and precision of a musical number worthy of Busby Berkeley to the dankest, dreariest back alley in any Ashcan School painting.
It’s 1934, and two-bit sheet-music salesman Arthur Parker (Steve Martin) is deeply unsatisfied: with his work, with his marriage, with the drab everyday world he lives in. He wants to break out and seek adventure, romance, excitement, riches. He wants money to open his own record shop, he yearns to express his ardor, and he hankers for a little hanky-panky, but his prim and prudent wife Joan (Jessica Harper) won’t give up her nest-egg (if you know what I mean and I think that you do). Arthur takes up with a shy schoolmarm (Broadway baby Bernadette Peters) who harbors silver-screen dreams like his own. But nothing seems to make him happy, because nothing can. Arthur’s inner contradictions are crushing. He rejects tangible pleasure at every turn: he pushes away meals though he’s hungry; he brushes off his wife’s hard-won wooing; after his lyrical daydreams of wooing his true love, he presses for a hasty hump on the couch; when a lady of the evening asks if he’d like to “have a good time,” he growls “No, I like being miserable!” Moments later he coos dreamily, “But I want to live in a world where the songs come true.” This is the heart of his ambivalence: Arthur craves the flimsy joys of fantasy, not the modest but attainable pleasures of the real world. He doesn’t want plain ol’ happiness; he wants the glamour of a Happy Ending, Hollywood style. Coming on the heels of Steve Martin’s The Jerk, Pennies from Heaven was woefully mis-marketed as a fond fantasy glancing back at the giddy musicals of the 1930s. That misreading must have made the actual film all the more jarring for contemporary audiences. Pennies from Heaven is a fantasy, all right, but a deliberately jarring one; the main characters break into song and dance to express their inner desires and fears, but after these glimpses into the dazzling paradise of their musical fantasies, the clunking return to the all-too-real world of grim Depression-era desperation stings viciously. In these tawdry studies in dark and light, director Herbert Ross deliberately evokes paintings from the ashcan school, a point that gets hammered home when we see Arthur and Eileen through the famous diner window from Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks. Then the angle changes, placing us inside the famous painting. It’s a risky ploy that Ross carries off again and again with breathtaking ease, recreating several Ashcan landscapes that give depth to the film’s heart even as they blend seamlessly into Arthur’s garish gimcrack world. With its cruel interplay of luminous pipe dreams and dismal reality, Pennies from Heaven portrays the alienating effect of glitzy Hollywood fantasy as effectively as Sunset Boulevard or Mulholland Dr., raising us up along with the characters to grace the silver screen, then thumping us unceremoniously back to the dim, heavily shadowed rooms and streets of Arthur’s everyday.
Free Kids Friday! One free rental from the Kids section, no other rental necessary!
>>> It’s free! It’s for kids! Or the very immature!
Having a Wild Weekend! Rent two movies, and get a third one for free from any section!
>>>For Saturday, Dennis suggests writing for the VideoReport! We want you! C’mon—maybe you’re shy, or you doubt your writing talents, but we know you’ve got opinions about movies and TV. So share ‘em! The VideoReport is Videoport’s weekly journal of movie-related stuff where the staff and customers (and pals) of the best, damned video store (remaining) in the world meet to argue. So send in your reviews to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or our facebook page Videoport Jones. Throw your weight around, people!
>>>For Sunday, Dennis reprints his list of the best Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes (in Incredibly Strange.) A pair of very nice customers asked me what my favorite MST3k episode was last night and I blanked for a second, so here’s my list (but feel free to rent any of the more than 100 episodes Videoport’s got—they’ll make you happy):
Mitchell. A very made-for-TV-looking cop movie starring a very made-from-beefy-burritos-looking Joe Don Baker as the titular, pork-faced cop who overcomes his chronic lethargy to collar bad guy Martin Balsam and bed dippy hooker Linda Evans. Watch for Joel’s horrified scream of, “BABY OIL?! NOO!!!” after spotting a bottle on Mitchell’s nightstand during an unappealing love scene between the already-lubricious hero and Ms. Evans. Historically, this was Joel’s last episode after five years of hosting the show, as he is jettisoned back to earth in the heretofore-unknown escape pod, the Deus-Ex-Machina.
The Brain That Wouldn’t Die. Taking over as host, head writer Mike Nelson ably fills Joel’s shoes as he and the ‘bots savage this sleazy 60’s mad scientist flick about a totally mental young doctor who keeps his fiancee’s decapitated head alive in a lasagna pan while he trolls strip shows, beauty contests and artists’ models so he can reassemble his beloved, preferably onto someone with a nice rack. Mike quickly gets into the swing of things: as the doctor, tucking the concealed head under his arm after the fateful car crash, runs through a park, Mike riffs, “He’s at the fifteen, the ten, no one will catch him!”
The Amazing Colossal Man. Joel and the lads take on the titular fifty foot atomic bomb survivor in this classic episode highlighted by very poor special effects, the whiniest giant around, and the spectacle of a huge, bald dude wearing an enormous, saggy diaper. In a skit, Joel sits in a cardboard dollhouse as the lugubrious, self-pitying hero, bemoaning his fate as Tom and Crow pepper him with irrelevant questions (Crow: How many fish can you name? Joel: Who cares? I’m immense, I’m huge, wahhhhhh). As the now-mental big guy complies with a soldier’s bullhorned order to release his understandably-upset girlfriend, Tom quips, “Thanks for putting down the girl. Now here are some bullets for you.”
Manos: The Hands of Fate. The legend. Although it has been said about almost every movie ever done on MST, this is officially the worst movie ever made, and Joel and the ‘bots let it have it with both barrels. A murky (Joel states that “every frame of this looks like someone’s last known photo”), sleazy, badly dubbed, atrociously acted tale of devil worshippers and a bland tourist family, Manos (yes, the title, translated, means “Hands, The Hands of Fate”) almost proves too much for our heroes, who periodically just break down and start weeping at its awfulness. All is saved, though, with Joel, dressing up as the berobed cultist from the film trying to subjugate the ‘bots, commanding, “Salutations, imperfect one! I am The Master and you are mysteriously drawn to me! Everything I say you must do right away without having to ask twice. I am evil and mean and unforgiving! In your brokenness, you have failed and now must repent. Bow down now before me! BOW DOWN!” Servo’s response: “Oh, hi Joel…”
Space Mutiny. Mike and the ‘bots vs a wretched space opera where all the space footage is purloined from the old Battlestar Galactica series, Cameron Mitchell plays the benevolent leader who looks like Santa in a mumu, the love interest appears to be about twenty saggy years older than the chunkhead hero, and all of the ‘spaceship’ interiors look suspiciously like decrepit warehouses. A running gag involves the boys yelling out alternative names for the bemuscled protagonist every time he does something ‘heroic’ (a partial list: Slab Bulkhead! Bridge Largemeat! Punt Speedchunk! Butch Deadlift! Splint Chesthair! Flint Ironstag! Bulk Vanderhuge! Thick Mcrunfast! Buff Drinklots! Slunk Slabchest! Fist Rockbone! Stomp Beefmob! Smash Lampjaw! Punch Rockgroin! Dirk Hardpeck! Rip Steakface! Crud Bonemeal! Brick Hardmeat! Gristle McThornbody! ) Watch for the Uwe Boll-worthy continuity error where a dead character suddenly reappears without comment back in the movie.
The Creeping Terror. Well, maybe this is the worst movie ever made… An alien (which looks suspiciously like a chinese dragon type thing covered with old burlap) shambles around an overexposed countryside in a very ineffectual attempt to do..something. It’s invaluably aided by the rock-stupid townies who just stand there screaming until it wobbles on top of them while they helpfully climb inside its mouth area. Most of the film is dubbed over by a supercilious narrator, reportedly because the original soundtrack was lost by the filmmakers; after one rare non-dubbed line emerges from someone’s mouth, Mike narrates, :”The sound of actual dialogue startled everyone”. Filled with odd interludes like the whitest high school dance you’ve ever seen (even for the 50’s), and a lengthy scene in which a young mother demonstrates the proper use of a rectal thermometer as soon as her baby starts crying (Mike: “How about talking to him? Or holding him even?”).
Cave Dwellers. It’s sword-and-sorcery time, with Joel and the ‘bots coping with this atrocious Conan ripoff by pointing out various continuity errors (like the medieval warrior wearing sunglasses. Crow: “Who’s that behind those Foster Grants? It’s OG!!”), logical inconsistencies (Joel: “Why is she limping?” Crow: “Because she’s got an arrow in her chest.” Joel: “Oh, I can see…huh?”), and the inexpressive, soloflexiness of former Tarzan Miles O’Keefe (“How much keefe is in this movie? Miles o’keefe.”) Night of the Blood Beast. Indie film maverick he may be, but there are few names that cause more collective horror to the gang on the Satellite of Love than Roger Corman, and this awesomely cheap sci fi thriller is the epitome of all that is Corman-tastic. A cut-rate space program (consisting of six whole people in a shack in the California countryside) kill their only astronaut when their water-heater- rocket, unsurprisingly, crash lands. Only he’s pregnant! With alien sea monkeys! And the outer space papa won’t be denied his visitation rights! Mike and the boys are all over this one, and the riffing is as inspired as I can ever remember: “This space program stinks! I’m gonna go work for my uncle’s space program…”, “Look, they can launch their rockets in the morning and then sell corn out of their flat bed truck!”, and lots and lots of jokes about a doughy astronaut suddenly being all knocked up with brine shrimp. Genius. (Also includes one of the all-time bazonko shorts, the inexplicably phone-philic 50s ‘Once Upon a Honeymoon’.)
New Releases this week at Videoport: Grand Piano (Elijah Wood stars as a concert pianist battling stage fright whose comeback concert is made slightly more difficult when sniper John Cusack sends him a note saying he’ll shoot if Wood plays even one wrong note! No pressure, Johnny C, geez…), Suits- season 3 (Gabriel Macht and Patrick J. Adams are back as the shiftiest, suit-wearing-est lawyers in town in this entertaining legal series; They wear suit, I’m told!), Endless Love (a pretty rich girl falls for a pretty boy from the wrong side of the tracks and trouble ensues in this adaptation of the same novel that spawned that Brooke Shields movie which everyone still makes fun of), Gambit (in oddball fact of the week that will make you want to rent a movie you might otherwise ignore news—this remake of the 1966 Michael Caine/Shirley Maclaine art heist flick was written by—but not directed by—the Coen Brothers? Weird, but true. It stars Colin Firth, Alan Rickman, and Cameron Diaz this time around ), Cheap Thrills (check out Videoport’s Incredibly Strange section for this ghoulishly comic horror movie about a pair of down-on-their-luck pals who accept eccentric millionaire David Koechner’s [Anchorman] offer to compete in a series of fiendishly escalating dares in order to win a lot of money; I’m sure things go fine…)