Volume CDLIII—The Indie Video Stores Strike Back
For the Week of 4/22/14
Videoport gives you a free movie every single day. Does that make us heroes? That’s not for us to say…
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 Hannibal (in Mystery/Thriller.) At the outset, I have to stress how completely uninterested—bordering on hostile—I was when I heard NBC was making this show. Not because I have any great affection for Thomas Harris’ books or the movies made from them—but because I felt like this was a shameless, desperate cash-grab attempting to cash in on the fading reputation of an overrated book and movie franchise. Look, I’ll give you Silence Of The Lambs (book and movie), and Red Dragon (book, but only Michael Mann’s movie Manhunter, not that crappy Brett Ratner movies Red Dragon). But even there, the whole serial killer thing is played out—seriously, how many serial killers are there in America? Do they all need their own movie? Plus, as fun as Anthony Hopkins was in SOTL, it was a hammy, limited turn that I don’t need any more of. (Brian Cox is his equal in a smaller role as Hannibal Lecter in Manhunter—give it a try.) Anyway, I was prepared to ignore/hatewatch what was sure to be a watered-down, lazy series engineered to lure in fans of the books/movies (which, do they still even exist) and doomed to fail. The fact that the thing was being helmed by the usually interesting Bryan Fuller (Dead Like Me, Wonderfalls, Pushing Daisies) just made me madder—while all three of those shows bombed hard ratings-wise, they each had a singular, unique vision and sense of humor that made them challenging, gratifyingly weird television. This Hannibal thing seemed like makework for hire and, frankly, beneath someone I’d always respected. Then—I watched the damned thing. Hannibal is easily one of the best shows on TV right now, and has been for almost two seasons. It takes the skeleton of Thomas Harris’ plots and characters and uses it as the scaffolding upon which Fuller has built something terrifying and alive—and strangely beautiful. It pushed the limits of what you can show on television, sure—there’s some serious gore here. But it also performs the seemingly impossible feat of making police procedurals, serial killer stories, and a moribund book/film franchise into its own, riveting monster. And I’ll say it—it’s got the best Hannibal ever in the impeccable Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale, The Hunt, A Royal Affair, After The Wedding). Better than Hopkins? Better than Hopkins. He’s less showy, for sure, and also less pleased with himself. Was it just me who got entirely bored with Anthony Hopkins’ performances as Lecter immediately after Silence Of The Lambs? Well, Mikkelsen has been playing the character for two straight seasons—a seemingly unplayable character, an unsustainable one—and he’s continually alive and thrilling on the screen. Even when (especially when) he’s doing little more than talking. As his nemesis/friend/victim Will Graham, British actor Hugh Dancy (Adam, The Big C) matches him. Graham, the FBI profiler with the curse-like ability to get inside the head of serial killers is drawn to Hannibal’s intellect, his insight—too bad he’s worse than any of the killers-of-the-week Will seeks help in catching. Add in the great Laurence Fishburne as Will’s boss Jack Crawford, whose gravitas and steely resolve help turn a character whose main function is to be wrong all the time into someone formidable. That’s partly due to Fshburne’s natural talent, but also due to Fuller’s writing—Jack’s great at his job, as long as he’s not up against Hannibal Lecter. There are some more good supporting turns from Aaron Abrams and The Kids In The Hall’s Scot Thompson (of all people) as a pair of bickering lab techs, and the ever interesting Caroline Dhavernas (of Fuller’s Wonderfalls) as a fellow shrink casting suspicious eyes at everyone, but it’s mainly Dancy and Mikkelsen’s show, and their ongoing dance of friendship and gamesmanship is pretty damned spellbinding. Hannibal’s so good at being what it is that the occasional intrusions of the well-known plots and characters from the books and movies, when they crop up, seem unnecessary. They stick out, reminding me that, “Oh, yeah—this is based on those books and movies I got so sick of.” And then I go back to watching one of the best shows on TV.
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!
>>> Emily S. Customer suggests Dial M For Murder (in Mystery/Thriller, but it’s a classic, so there.) You’ve seen Hitchcock’s small-scale domestic thriller Dial M for Murder, surely. But have you really seen it? Have you picked up the quiet, insistent symbolic language of the superficially unassuming film? Well, that’s okay, because I did. Can I tempt you to revisit Dial M for Murder with me as your guide? Read Dial M for Murder: Symbols of Objectification in Hitchcock’s Classic http://the-toast.net/2014/03/31/dial-m-motif-symbols-objectification-hitchcocks-classic/view-all/ for the full critique, but be warned: this analysis gives blow-by-blow SPOILERS, so don’t read it until or unless you’ve seen the film.
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 Community (in Comedy.) Now that Community has just wrapped up its improbable fifth season, it’s time for you to go back and check out one of the best sitcoms in recent memory, a weird, too-smart-for-TV-ratings, stealthily heartfelt tale of a ragtag group of disparate characters bound together by their attendance at one of the world’s worst, and oddest, community colleges. First, let’s tell the story of that “improbable” fifth season, as its genesis goes right to the heart of what makes Community so good. Creator Dan Harmon (by all accounts a brilliant, bearishly difficult guy) got fired after the show’s third season by the networks/suits/dimwits. Despite being low-rated, a fourth season went ahead anyway, with a couple of well-meaning guys in charge—and it was a disaster. It’s not that the resulting season (called “the gas leak season” hereafter, due to a later joke and the fact that everyone in season 4 acted just enough off for the show to resemble nothing so much as wobbly fan fiction of itself) was terrible. It’s that it, under the guidance of people who were not the one guy who created and guided such a singular show, looked like a show trying too hard to resemble itself. I watched all of season 4—I recommend doing so as an exercise in proving how corporate meddling in artistic endeavors is wrong 100% of the time. Then, after season 4 was over, the stars of the show (most notably main star Joel McHale who plays disbarred lawyer and snarky cool guy Jeff Winger) sad they wouldn’t return as the network wanted them to unless they hired back…Dan Harmon. And they did! It’s completely unprecedented as far as I can tell—fired showrunner rehired after staff walkout and reinstalled in old position by the very suits who canned him. Hired back against the will of the suits, in other words. Wow. Was season 5 the best the show had ever produced? No. For one thing, there was a lot of unexpected turnover, with the hilarious and talented Donald Glover (as former jock turned happy goofball Toy Barnes) leaving partway through the season, and renowned character actor and grump Jonathan Banks (Breaking Bad’s Mike Ehrmentraut to you) taking the place of renowned pain in the ass Chevy Chase. (Banks was shockingly funny, by the way.) And some of the big, daring moves the show made didn’t pay off as well as they have in the past. But who cares—this is one of the most inventive, hilarious shows I’ve ever seen. It gives you more the more you watch it—and I watch and rewatch it a lot (except for season 4 which doesn’t exist.) Community—it’ll just make you happy.
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 Stories We Tell (in Documentary). After months and months of planning (and failing) to watch Sarah Polley’s documentary The Stories We Tell, I finally sat down with it expecting to incorporate it into a piece I’m already writing. Maybe 30 minutes in, I realized I couldn’t include it – at least, not without explaining and expounding enough to ruin many of its meandering charms for other viewers – but by that time I was hooked. No matter how fast my deadline was hurtling toward me, I knew I was going to sit with the domestic drama artfully unreeling in this film, and with the layers of self-aware construction of personal histories playing and replaying in different people’s stories, until the very last minute, and laugh and cry all the way there.
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 Fargo (in Mystery/Thriller.) Not that I’m prepared to go all gooey over it, Hannibal-style, but the new Fargo TV series (which has only aired one episode and is not on DVD yet, so cool it) is similarly much better than it has any right to be so far. Sure, the Coen Brothers are on board in some sort of executive producer capacity, but they’re not creatively involved with the show which, apart from taking place in the same part of the world and dealing with unlikely Midwesterners getting involved in murder and the like, doesn’t have anything to do with the Coen’s brilliant dark comic crime thriller. It’s got Martin Freeman as the central poor sad sack (and doing a creditable accent), and Billy Bob Thornton as the No Country For Old Men-like hired killer Freeman gets mixed up with. There’s a deceptively formidable lady cop and lots of colorful characters—and it’s actually pretty great so far. So rent Fargo, then watch Fargo and then try not to feed anyone into a wood chipper or anything.
>>>For Sunday, Dennis suggests getting some serious free money at Videoport! I mean, you can do this any day, but since nobody gave me a Sunday review this week (send your reviews to firstname.lastname@example.org—we’re all in this together, people!), I thought I’d use the space to remind everyone out there about Videoport’s too-good-to-be-true payment plans! Any time you want, you can pay $20 on your Videoport account and we’ll give you $25 worth of rental credit. And any time you pre-pay $30 on your account, we’ll give you $40 worth of rental credit. It’s 5 or 10 free bucks right there—all you’ve gotta do is pick it up, gang! The credit never expires or any of that nonsense, you can use it for rentals or any of those pesky extra day fees, and—did I mention?—it’s free-freaking-money! Call it 5 or 10 free dollars you would have spent here anyway, call it 20 or 25% off Videoport’s already so-low rental prices—call it anything you want. It’s still free money!
New Releases this week at Videoport: The Address (historical documentarian wildman Ken Burns is back! This time lending his meticulous skills to a study of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and how it continues to resonate, despite being only 272 words! In contrast, this newsletter routinely runs 2500 words and is immediately forgotten by all! There’s a lesson in there somewhere…), Big Bad Wolves (the makers of this Israeli thriller about three different men on a violent collision course are thanking their lucky stars tonight that no less than Quentin Tarantino has proclaimed it “The best film of the year!”; it’s right there on the box!!), okay kids—sometimes the studios take what you might call a little break from, you know, releasing anything whatsoever on DVD!! Seriously—there was just a vast wasteland o’ nothin coming out this week. So take the time to catch up on the new releases you might’ve missed—let us help you find ‘em. Things are back on track next week, we promise.
New Arrivals at Videoport: The Pawnbroker (Rod Steiger stars in this acclaimed, powerful 1964 drama from director Sidney Lumet about a Jewish pawnbroker and Holocaust survivor whose loss of faith in humanity colors his everyday interactions with the customers in his New York neighborhood), The Vanishing Of The Bees (Ellen Page narrates this documentary that asks, “Hey—what’s the deal with all those bees?”), Breaking The Waves (Criterion).
New Arrivals on Blu-Ray This Week At Videoport: A Band Called Death (attention all fans of: Searching For Sugarman, music, underdog stories, Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me, Muscle Shoals, 20 Feet From Stardom—here’s the next documentary you’re gonna want to watch, a portrait of the band Death, an all-black Detroit proto-punk outfit that didn’t make it but are still acclaimed to this day), Breaking The Waves (Criterion finally put out a super-duper blu ray edition of Lars von Trier’s super-duper wrenching film starring the great Emily Watson as a virginal bride who goes to some seriously disturbing lengths to satisfy the needs of her newly-crippled husband)
Free parking at Videoport! The parking lot behind the building is free for customers after 5PM on weekdays and all days on the weekends. Also, we can get you a free hour of parking at any downtown parking garage (including the courthouse garage which is, like, a one minute walk away). Just ask for one of our magic stickers!
Get your movies duplicated at Videoport!
You guys know we can make copies of your DVDs and VHSes at Videoport, right? No, it can’t be anything copyrighted (that’s sort of what that word means), so you’ll just have to buy another copy of Weekend At Bernie’s to replace that VHS you’ve played so often it finally shredded itself. But home movies or anything not copyrighted? We can do it! $10 bucks a pop and little Susie’s dance recital can be copied and sent to every relative on your Christmas card list!