VideoReport #488

Volume CDLXXXVIII- Happy Holidays, Portland!

For the Week of 12/23/14

Videoport gives you a free movie every day—including, but not limited to this holiday season. I don’t think there’s any possible objection you could have to that, frankly.

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 (really does) suggest The Junky’s Christmas (in the Holiday Section). William S. Burroughs narrates this back and white stop-motion animated film based on his short story. Danny he car wiper gets out of jail on Christmas Eve and wanders around New York City looking for a fix. He comes across some people who are friendly and others who aren’t. Danny may be a junky, but he’s a good man at heart. Make sure to check out the other short films included on the DVD—they’re quite good, too.

>>>Emily S. Customer suggests Three Days Of The Condor and The Conversation (in Mystery/Thriller). I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Christmas can be a loving, joyous time of year, and there are plenty of films and specials to celebrate that feeling. It can also be a stressful, cold, or lonely season, and that’s a sentiment that can be harder to find echoed in our pop culture, making it even lonelier. Maybe that’s why — even though I’m mostly a holly-jolly bundle of Christmas cheer — my favorite Christmas double feature is a brace of ’70s thrillers rich in paranoia and quiet dread. Set at Christmastime, Sydney Pollack’s Three Days of the Condor (1975) and Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation(1974) play out their intrigues against a backdrop of holiday shoppers, party-goers, twinkling lights, and carolers, which throw the tension and terror of the protagonists (respectively, Robert Redford and Gene Hackman) into poignant contrast. )And how many movies have a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment with a young Harrison Ford offering Hackman a taste of the Christmas cookies he baked himself to bring into the office?)

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 O Henry’s Full House (in Classics/Videoport’s Holiday Section.) This anthology film, made up of adaptations of stories from the titular master of the twist ending is fine, full of, well, neat twist endings. But the best and most relevant reason to take it out now is that it includes an adaptation of his best and most famous story “The Gift Of The Magi.” I love that story, also perhaps the best Christmas story ever—honestly, I can’t read it without getting all weepy. You know the tale—young couple, terribly poor, trying desperately to scrounge up enough money separately to get each other a decent present. And then there’s that ending—I know you know it, but I won’t spoil it anyway. The prose is straightforward, and unfussy. It’s lovely, and perfect, and right. It’s something like the truest meaning of whatever Christmas might mean. Getting a little weepy just thinking about it, frankly. As for the segment here, it’s fine—nothing can be as spare and pure as the story, but it’s drawn from the same spirit, and it’ll get you, too. Jeanne Crain and Farley Granger are, as ever, too earnest (especially Granger), but it sort of works for the characters. Everyone forgets about this one come Christmastime—so it’ll probably be around when you’re looking for something different. Or, you know, when you’re looking at the three or four holiday movies left on Christmas Eve.

>>>Emily S. Customer suggests The Shop Around the Corner and Holiday. Start your holiday right with a pair of adorable old-school B&W romantic comedies: Shop around the Corner (1940) and Holiday (1938). Mr. Kralik (Jimmy Stewart) and Miss Novak (Margaret Sullavan) work together in Mr. Matuschek’s little store, and as the year trundles along toward Christmas, they spar and spark, always at odds with each other and picking little fights. This film was famously remade in the ’90s — and once the plot gets rolling, you’ll recognize it, but don’t worry: there are still plenty of pleasant surprises in the original that didn’t make it into the remake. But there’s nothing quite like the Ernst Lubitsch touch to put a little twinkle in your heart. The Shop around the Corner pairs up nicely with George Cukor’s effervescent Holiday,starring Cary Grant as Johnnie, the hopeful self-made fiancé of an heiress (Doris Nolan), and Katherine Hepburn as her free-spirited sister, who tries to usher Johnny into the family’s philosophies without betraying her own along the way.

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 Scrooged (in the Holiday Section.) Christmas movies are lousy, generally. Obligatory is the word I’d apply to them most often—they just are made because they’re supposed to exist around this time of year. Cheap sentiment, obvious jokes—something to keep everyone quiet and mildly and inoffensively entertained for the night. And Scrooged isn’t immune to the perfunctory Xmas movie taint, despite the best efforts of some very talented people. Another version of A Christmas Carol, transplanted to the 190s TV executive suite, it’s by-the-numbers, all right. Meanest man in the world, three ghosts, redemption, all the rest of it. What saves the movie (despite being directed with borderline ineptitude by Superman’s Richard Donner) is both the script (from infamous SNL prince of darkness, writer Michael O’Donoghue), and, of course, the great Bill Murray as the evil Frank Cross. There are some fringe benefits in the cast: Bobcat Goldthwait is his weird, put-upon Bob Cratchit, Karen Allen (never more dewy eyed and fetching) is the good woman who he let get away, and Carol Kane is indescribably loopy and hilarious as a shockingly two-fisted Ghost Of Christmas Present. But Murray is stunningly good—he strains a little for effect here and there, not having found the understated style he uses to such great effect these days—but he’s terribly funny, running roughshod over his underlings as his network president plans a live Christmas Eve version of A Christmas Carol starring the likes of Buddy Hackett, Mary Lou Retton, and the Solid Gold dancers. Murray’s aided immeasurably by O’Donoghue’s script, which savages the holiday movie spirit as far as it possibly can while still remaining a viable Christmas movie. O’Donoghue hated sentimentality, and Hollywood, and probably Christmas, too, and he was reportedly incensed at the ending, when Murray’s Cross gives a long, rambling speech about the real meaning of the holiday. The speech is a mess—Donner reportedly let Murray improve his way around the set and make up his lines. And while it does strain a bit as I’ve said, it also finds the sweet spot between realism and sentimentality, with Murray’s contention that the true miracle of Christmas is that we all find the will to not be a-holes for one night a year. Now that’s a holiday moral I can get behind.

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!                                        

>>> April (can’t really) suggest Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever (in the Holiday Section) because it’s terrible. I guess if you like cats, or memes, or TV movies made to make you buy crap you don’t need, then this is the perfect movie for you!

Don't blame Grumpy Cat. She's just a damn cat.

Don’t blame Grumpy Cat. She’s just a damn cat.

Aubrey Plaza (Park and Recreation) is awesome, but her running commentary as the voice of Grumpy Cat is freaking annoying. Grumpy Cat lives in a pet store at a mall, this little girl can hear the cat’s thoughts or something. Some dudes steal a dog from the shop because it’s worth a billion dollars or something I’m not really paying any attention to it. Let’s look at the back of this case. 90 minutes?! Why is this 90 minutes?! Rent it for your kids They’ll love it. Just make sure you leave the room before it starts.

Free 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!          

>>> Emily S. Customer suggests more Christmas double-features! What are you in the mood for? We’ve got your double-feature right here. Furious family Christmas?The Ref (comedy) and The Lion in Winter (Classics). Disaffected, disenchanted consumerist Christmas? Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut and Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. Arty, meditative action-adventure Christmas? In Bruges and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Disruptive houseguest Christmas? Gremlins and Edward Scissorhands. Sweaty Bruce Willis Christmas? Die Hard, natch, and Twelve Monkeys. We have some Christmas fare, is what I’m saying.

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 Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Season 3, episode 10—“Amends.” Tired of the usual versions of A Christmas Carol? Then why not toss in some vampires, maybe a demon? Honestly, this is one of the best episodes of a still-outstanding TV series, a holiday episode, Hellmouth style! See, the Hellmouth is what it sounds like, and it’s right under Buffy (the titular vampire slayer)’s hometown of Sunnydale, California (remember that last word when it comes to the episode’s beautiful, emotionally rich twist ending.) Buffy’s true love Angel (he’s a vampire, but has a soul now and therefore is generally very tormented about the hundred or so years he spent killing people all over the world), has been having visions of, well, all those dead people he killed all over the world. It ties in with an entity called the First (as in, the first evil), which comes o him every night around Christmastime in the form or one of his most recent victims (he lost his soul for a little while there.) She keeps urging him to kill Buffy (or, failing that, himself), and the mental anguish is driving him to do one, or the other. Meanwhile, Buffy’s freaking out because she can see Angel edging toward the dark side, her best pal Willow (I love Alyson Hannigan) is contemplating finally having “the sex” with cool, laconic boyfriend OZ (Seth Green, also awesome), and poor group sad-sack Xander just wants to camp outside to escape his drunken parents’ yuletide bickering. When it all goes down, Buffy confronts Angel on a cliff overlooking the sleeping Sunnydale as he, not wanting to hurt anyone again, waits with all the sleeping kids—for the sun to come up. While neither Sarah Michelle Geller nor David Boreanaz have done anything that interesting after this show, they are both outstanding in this episode (and on their individual shows in general), and neither was ever better than in this final scene. (Creator Joss Whedon [Firefly, The Avengers, Cabin In The Woods] cites Boreanaz’ acting here as the proof he needed that he could lead his own show (Buffy spinoff Angel—which is also outstanding.) And the ending (which I won’t spoil) is truly something astonishing—a giant, inexplicable holiday story Hail Mary of an ending that pays off everyone’s story perfectly. So if you’re tired of watching A Christmas Story for the 30th time, why not go further afield for your holiday entertainment?

>>>For Sunday, Dennis suggests The Simpsons. Season 7, episode 11—Marge Be Not Proud.” For this one, I’ll just quote pal and Videoport customer Zack Handlen, writing in the AV Club. It’s a Christmas episode in which Bart gets caught shoplifting the videogame he just has to have, and interprets Marge’s cold anger as confirmation that she doesn’t love him anymore. I’ll let Zack tease why you should watch it:

The final segment of “Marge Be Not Proud” is all the more remarkable for how it manages to be devastating without ever really pausing in the jokes. Marge’s sadness is real, but we still get time for Homer’s complicated plan for punishment (“No stealing for a month!”). Bart’s loss is palpable, but it leads to the hilarious, and heartbreaking, bit with Milhouse’s mother—”Tell me I’m good” is at once nakedly pathetic, entirely understandable, and a great punchline. (Not to mention Milhouse’s newfound obsession with the ball and cup. You never know which way it’s gonna go!) The sincerity contextualizes the humor, gives it weight that makes it funnier. This isn’t just a child trying to get a contact high from hanging out with someone else’s mom. This is Bart, and the fact that he needs to fill a void that can’t be filled is something that’s recognizable and human, and we laugh harder because of it.

Damn, that guy’s good. So’s this episode.

New Releases this week at Videoport: The Trip To Italy (British comedians and friends Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon return in a sequel to their enduringly entertaining and funny The Trip. Like last time, director Michael Winterbottom [24 Hour Party People, Tristram Shandy] follows Coogan and Brydon [playing versions of themselves] as they take a tour of some excellent restaurants, this time in—you guessed it—Italy! The Trip saw the two eating, drinking, and snarking hilariously at each other, their personal and professional issues emerging through bites of food and a running commentary of great, funny impressions and jokes. It’s like Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy, only with two middle aged British friends making tipsy fun of each other.), The Americans- season 2 (Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys return in this outstanding Cold War spy series as a pair of Russian sleeper agents posing as a typical American couple. Action, romance, sex, and some seriously tingly suspense—just a really good show), Black Sails- season 1 (Pirates! Thanks in no small part to Johnny Depp, everyone loves pirates now! At least, they sort of do, as evidenced by this, the second network pirate show to come out in the last year [Crossbones is the other one—and at least has John Malkovich hamming it up, pirate-style]. In this one [which originally aired on some cable channel you don’t get] we follow the pirate-y activities of some pirates, including a pre-Treasure Island Long John Silver, who, in this, is all young and sexy and bipedal. Pirates!), The Good Lie (Inspiring true tale of a group of Sudanese refugees to America who end up in Missouri. Luckily, Reese Witherspoon is there as the spunkiest, nicest social worker in all the land.), Intruders- season 1 (Interesting British sci-fi supernatural series [created by the X Files’ Glen Morgan] about a former cop who investigates his wife’s disappearance and discovers the existence of a race of…well, I’m not telling. Starring Mira Sorvino and Doctor Who’s John Simm), Pride (Feel-good true story about a group of striking Welsh coal miners who find their cause joined by some unexpected allies when a group of London gay activists show up. Starring Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton, and Paddy Considine.),