Volume DXVI— Jurassic Park 5: We’ve Totally Got It Right This Time, We Swear
For the Week of 7/7/15
Videoport gives you a free movie every day. Netflix gives you a bewildering variety of venereal diseases through your television.
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 $7.99!
>>> April suggests The Return of the Living Dead (in Horror) Zombies! Punks! This film is like a nice pair of novelty socks that you can’t being yourself to throw out, even though they’re full of holes, because you adore them. Not that Return of the Living Dead hasn’t aged well, it’s just as great as you remember, but it’s not quite classic cinema either. It’s Freddy’s first day of work at a medical supply warehouse and things are going swell until his boss accidentally breaks open some army canisters that contain a strange gas. The gas brings a medical corpse (and some half-dogs) back to life. Meanwhile Freddy’s punker friends decide to hang out in a nearby cemetery. The boss decides to use his friend’s mortuary to cremate the re-animated corpses which only spreads the zombie infection to the cemetery. All hell breaks loose, naturally. Written and directed by Dan O’Bannon (writer of Alien) and starring some not great but fun actors who really seem to relish digging into brains!
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 $7.99! >>> Dennis suggests picking something at random from Videoport’s Classics section. That’s what a video store is for. We hold onto things that matter, care for them, curate them—and save them for you. Film history lives at Videoport—come get some. That’s what we do.
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 $7.99!
>>> Dennis suggests Key & Peele (in Comedy). Here is the pantheon of sketch comedy TV shows, in order. (And no, there is no debate): 1. Monty Python’s Flying Circus 2. Mr. Show 3. The Upright Citizens Brigade 4. Key & Peele. Yeah, I said it. Key & Peele starts its fourth season on Comedy Central this week, so now’s the perfect time to catch up on, yes, the fourth-best sketch comedy show of all time. The best sketch shows (see numbers 1-4 above—no debate) derive their character (not to mention characters) from the performers, and Key & Peele reveals Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele to be both hilarious and possessed of a lot to say, about race, sexuality, America, men and women, and just plain nonsense of all kinds. Anyone can point to something and say, “That is ridiculous/offensive/mean /just plain wrong and say nothing insightful or worthwhile—see: Saturday Night Live on a bad run. Key and Peele do a lot of material about race in America (they’re both black men)—and they find new and provocative ways to go about that, none of which are ever free from an admirable and original silliness. Apart from their writing—which is stellar—both guys are two of the best actors on television, regardless of the show or genre. Like the sketch show rankings (not negotiable)—yeah, I said it.
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 $7.99!
>>> Dennis suggests getting your hopes unreasonably high for Halt And Catch Fire (in Feature Drama). I’ve reviewed every episode so far of this AMC “we need a new Don Draper, STAT!” drama series. It started out okay, got a lot worse, and then improved quite a bit in its second season. Here’s my old review of the promising pilot from The AV Club (www.avclub.com): A handsome, carefully crafted machine, Halt And Catch Fire looks good coming out of the box. Set in 1983 Texas, the show has an unobtrusive period feel—the fashions feel right, and the decade-appropriate details are present but not overdone. In this first episode, the corporate offices of Cardiff Electric, a mid-level computer company content in its secure inferiority to industry giant IBM, is just the sort of placid, unadventurous corporate setting for a brilliant but cowed computer programmer/family man like Gordon Clark to drone away his once-lofty dreams of Steve Jobs superstardom and wealth. At least until Joe MacMillan blows into town in his Porsche, steals Gordon’s parking space, teases Gordon with his former ambition (in the form of a visionary article he once wrote for Byte), and seduces the downtrodden Gordon into reverse engineering one of those ubiquitous and lucrative IBM personal computers with him in order to—well, that’s the rub, isn’t it? Who is this Joe MacMillan, and what sort of game is he playing? In Todd VanDerWerff’s TV Review of the premiere ,“I/O” (the only episode AMC is letting critics see), he made the point that Halt And Catch Fire is made up of a lot of familiar components. Scoot McNairy’s Gordon is the former dreamer uneasily setting aside his ambitions under the pressures of fatherhood and husband-hood. His wife Donna (Kerry Bishé) loves him but is losing patience with his restlessness, wishing he’d forget that time the two of them almost started their own computer company and that he’d fix the kids’ damn Speak & Spell already. And then there’s Joe, the smooth-faced, smoother-talking mystery man with the impeccable suits and perfect hair and the seeming ability to make men and women do exactly what he wants—and what he wants is something only he (and the show) knows. And he’ll reveal it when he’s good and ready. It’s in the inevitable revelation of Joe’s endgame that Halt And Catch Fire is going to live or die, as his lightning fast machinations in this first episode are the only engine the show has. McNairy’s Gordon, receding behind his mousy beard and short sleeved work shirts, has some colors in the pilot—you can feel the character’s self worth wax when his technical expertise briefly makes him the dominant partner while disassembling the IBM—but he, like everyone else, is a reactive element in the story Joe’s writing. Like another AMC show I promised myself I wouldn’t compare Halt And Catch Fire to, there’s nothing especially compelling about the corporate world in which the main character operates in itself. Here, the 1980s computer industry (like the 1960s industry involving the advertising of goods and services on that other show) is merely the battleground upon which a brilliant, charismatic protagonist with a troubled past only hinted at will prove his worth to himself and to those shadowy past figures he’s ever haunted by. The degree to which the drama therein is going to succeed will rely on Lee Pace’s place at the center of all this, and his performance—indeed, his casting—assures things are at least going to stay interesting. I’ve always found Pace to be a vaguely unsettling presence, his blank affect and angular features reminiscent of someone manufactured into existence for the role at hand. That’s why he’s fit so well into the stylized TV universes of Bryan Fuller, the even more stylized cinematic world of Tarsem Singh’s The Fall, and why he makes a damned fine elf king. Here, too, in his crisp, Patrick Bateman ’80s suits and haircut (you just know he has a Bateman-esque defoliating ritual), Pace’s Joe orchestrates every relevant bit of plot in the pilot like a criminal mastermind, laying infallible snares for everyone around him. When those snares go off, it is, as another current Bryan Fuller TV mastermind might say, “by his design.” So when Gordon agrees to lie to his wife and help Joe, and when the pretty, punky computer student Cameron (a winningly no-bullshit MacKenzie Davis) becomes the guys’ third accomplice, and when Toby Huss’ blustering Cardiff exec is forced to allow their project to continue because Joe called IBM to force the company’s hand—it is all by Joe’s design. It’s fun watching Pace glide through all these machinations—it’s like every one of his speeches was designed to outdo Alec Baldwin’s inGlengarry Glen Ross—and Pace is magnetic as always doing so. But, like Joe’s plan, the first episode of Halt And Catch Fire is too calculated to allow much room for air. As the introductory crawl explains the title: “halt and catch fire” was “An early computer command that sent the machine into a race condition, forcing all instructions to compete for superiority at once. Control of the computer could not be regained.” Gee, that’s sort of like what Joe does. Halt And Catch Fire allows some cracks to show in Joe’s demeanor, but they, like much of the show, are deployed as if according to, well, a program. (File labeled: “prestige cable drama.”) When Joe, seemingly thwarted by Gordon’s initial refusal, digs out a baseball bat emblazoned with the motto “Swing for the fences, son” and starts smacking line drives into the walls and windows of his spacious, empty apartment, we’re meant to respond to the storytelling shorthand. There are enough spaces around the main characters that can still be filled in (Davis’ smudged humor is deployed to good effect), but, again like Joe’s master plan, there’s a lot of evident planning going on. It seems paradoxical, ungrateful even, to call Halt And Catch Fire out for being too assured in a TV landscape of ramshackle, clichéd nonsense. There’s a lot of promise here, and a few unique and welcome surprises. As thankless a role as Bishé is stuck with (at least in this one episode), it’s gratifying how quickly Donna and Gordon come to their understanding about him pursuing his dreams again. As the lone other female of the story, Davis is a welcome rogue element amidst all Joe’s control, and her outsider status as the only woman in her field of study makes narrative sense since Joe and Gordon have to find someone off the radar. Toby Huss remains an unheralded character-actor secret weapon—his understandable late-episode threat to find out just what Joe’s hiding marks him as a worthy adversary. And as hackneyed as his family story might be, McNairy looks to have some interesting moves of his own to play as Gordon continues to be drawn out of hiding. The show looks good, with a muted, shadowy palette that sets off every glowing electronic device with an evocative, neon nimbus. And it’s got Pace who, as programmatic as his character might appear, provides Halt And Catch Fire with a compellingly enigmatic center to build around. When, in the last scene (scored to Bonobo’s eerie, edgy “Cirrus”), Gordon asks Joe “What are you trying to prove with all of this?” as a seemingly endless parade of IBM lawyers file into the lowly Cardiff offices, Pace’s wordless reaction does a lot of work toward keeping the stakes palpable.
Kids Friday! One free rental from the Kids section, no other rental necessary! OR get any three non-new releases for a week for $7.99!
>>> It’s a free movie from the kids section every Friday, with no other rental necessary. Where else are you gonna get something for free for absolutely nothing? Nowhere, that’s where.
Having a Wild Weekend! Rent two movies, and get a third one for free from any section! OR get any three non-new releases for a week for $7.99!
>>>For Saturday, Dennis suggests Delocated (in Incredibly Strange). You might recognize the very funny Jon Glaser from his recurring role as Leslie Knope’s d-bag city council nemesis Jeremy Jam on Parks And Recreation, or as Laird, the pathetic but sympathetic neighbor to Lena Dunham’s Hanna on Girls, or in any number of scene-stealing supporting roles, usually playing some sort of gross, pervy jerk—hey, everyone’s good at something. But you don’t have to worry about recognizing Glaser on this ludicrously silly sitcom about a guy in the witness protection program, as he never once takes off the black ski mask he thinks will protect his identity while he aims for fame with his own reality show. Which they’re filming during his time in the witness protection program. Funny stuff as ever from Glaser, whose persona and writing are as weird and unexpected as ever.
>>>For Sunday, Dennis suggests It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia (in Comedy). I recently rewatched all ten seasons of this show for a thing—it’s a whole thing, I’ll tell you about it later—and can confirm that this disreputable sitcom is one of the most underrated comedies in TV history. The ongoing adventures of five of the worst people in the world, it does the highly improbable—it sustains itself through unremitting terrible behavior. Even Seinfeld (whose own terrible people would run screaming from the Sunny gang) ran out of gas after a while, finding the task of balancing the show’s comedy of bad behavior over its nine seasons. Indeed, last season was one of Sunny’s best, a refreshing refutation to the idea that all good things have to go on too long. Sure, Sunny is designed to test your willingness to empathize with (or, indeed watch) awful people do awful things—and come away happy.
New Releases this week at Videoport: Hard To Be A God (Fans of Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky [Solaris, The Sacrifice, Stalker, My Name Is Ivan] are urged to take their passion for slow, obscure, disturbing, three-hour films to this new film from director Aleksy German, a three-hour, black-and-white tale of Earth scientists sent to surreptitiously study the Medieval-level inhabitants of the terminally muddy and dire planet Arkanar, only to find their mission compromised when the natives start worshipping them as gods. Writing for the AV Club, film critic Ignatiy Vishnevetsky opens with: The plot of Hard To Be A God—the late Aleksei German’s decades-in-the-making medieval sci-fi flick—is relatively straightforward, but it’s often difficult to follow, because it’s buried under all of the mud, muck, smoke, decay, and shit that German crams into every frame. To put it another way: If Hard To Be A God isn’t the filthiest, most fetid-looking movie ever made, it’s certainly in the top three. Everyone seems to be continually kicking each other, spitting on each other, or beating each other—and if they’re not, it’s because they’re busy picking things out of the mud, poking bare and dirty asses with spears, or smelling what they just wiped off their boots. It is grotesque and deranged and Hieronymus Bosch-like, and damn if it isn’t a bona fide vision—but of what, exactly? Rent it at Videoport and find out!), House Of Cards- season 3 (Kevin Spacey returns as Francis Underwood, the most cartoonishly corrupt politician in TV history in this series from a company we don’t talk about at Videoport. Lots of you love this show out there—and thanks for renting it from us and not from that soulless, video store-killing corporation we don’t talk about), Woman In Gold (Helen Mirren stars as a woman attempting to regain possession of the titular portrait, a family heirloom of great value stolen by the Nazis. Based on a true story, it also stars Ryan Reynolds as her lawyer who, I’m just guessing, wasn’t as doe-y eyed handsome in real life), Maggie (Arnold Schwarzenegger attempts to put “actor” on his resume at this late stage, playing a hulking, close-lipped famer who attempts to keep his zombie-bitten daughter around for as long as possible. Reviews say this artsy zombie flick wisely limits Arnie’s lines, and that he’s sort of effective, actually), Slow West (Unusual Western about a young Scottish man who sets out on a long, perhaps slow journey through the harsh Old West in search of his lost love, a taciturn outlaw as his guide. Good cast includes Michael Fassbender [as the taciturn guide, of course], The Road’s Kodi Smit-McPhee, and Ben Mendelsohn, and the film is directed by John Maclean, who art-rocker types know better as the lead singer of Scottish cool-guy rockers The Beta Band), Kill Me Three Times (Everybody’s favorite, Simon Pegg [Shaun Of The Dead] tries out his tough guy muscles in this pitch-black Australian comedy thriller as a hitman who takes up position to observe [and occasionally facilitate] the bloody chaos caused by a trio of variously competent Aussie adulterers, kidnappers, and assorted violent types ), 5 Flights Up (Sure, this late-life romantic comedy/drama looks a little cuddly and twinkly, but since it’s Morgan Freeman and Diane Keaton doing the cuddling and twinkling as a long-married couple dealing with the upheaval of giving up their longtime, rent-controlled New York apartment, we’ll allow it), What We Do In The Shadows (Hilarious comedy from the people behind the equally hilarious show Flight Of The Concords sees a group of contented vampires thrown into turmoil when one of their number turns a newcomer who’s a little more enthusiastic about the bloodsucking), The Lovers (Josh Hartnett stars in this time traveling romance as a present-day guy who enters a coma and finds himself romancing a princess in 18th century India; directed by The Killing Fields‘ Roland Joffe, which used to mean something)
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