VideoReport #445

Volume CDXLV- 2014: The Indie Video Storepocalypse

For the Week of 2/25/14

Videoport gives you a free movie every day. Netflix sideswiped your car that one time and drove off without leaving a note. We saw it…

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 that all of the coolest people in the movies stop dying unexpectedly. This week: Harold Ramis. This one just hurts. You love Harold Ramis, even if you don’t know you do. Of course, everyone loves him in Ghostbusters as Dr. Egon Spengler, and maybe as Bill Murray’s sardonic best bud in Stripes. But the man was one of the most important comic minds of the last century. Think I’m overstating it? Well, he wrote/cowrote: Animal House, Caddyshack, Stripes, Meatballs, National Lampoon’s Vacation, Ghostbusters, SCTV, Back To School, and Groundhog Day (one of the most perfect comedies ever made.) He also wrote Analyze This, which a lot of you like as well. He directed a lot of those movies, along with the underrated comic thriller The Ice Harvest, and some of the best episodes of The Office. And he was, by all accounts and everything I ever saw, a kind, funny, unassuming, avuncular presence—honestly, “avuncular” is just right, as he seemed like the favorite uncle you wished you had. He was as formative to my ideas of comedy as Bill Murray, SNL, Monty Python, Richard Pryor, George Carlin, or anyone/anything else I ever saw. I’ve been getting teary all day and feeling silly about it. And then I don’t. This just plain sucks…

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!

>>>Free money at Videoport! Come and get it!!!

Seriously. Not a joke, people. This is not a drill. Anytime you want, you can get either 5 or 10 free bucks in rental credit at Videoport. Put $20 down on your Videoport account, and you’ll see it magically transformed into $25 worth of rental credit. And, if you’re feeling especially spendy/smart, $30 will buy you $40 worth of credit. (Which you would have spent at Videoport anyway, since we’re so great and you’re so intelligent.) There’s no down side to this deal, people. Come get your free money.

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 Knocked Up (in Comedy.) As a huge Judd Apatow admirer, I’ll be the first to admit that there are some things that don’t quite work. Katherine Heigl is tragically miscast in the female lead, for one—honestly, she’s one of the least-appealing romantic leads in rom-com history. And like all Apatow movies, it’s too long, and the guy-centric improv can get a bit trying if you’re not into that sort of thing. But it’s still funny as hell, and can come at you with some sneakily-affecting moments, many of which are supplied by the great, late Harold Ramis. He’s only got a couple of scenes, as Seth Rogen’s father, but these scenes—which were all improvised by Ramis himself—form one of my favorite all-time screen father-son relationships. Rogen, having, well, knocked up a woman he barely knows, comes to his dad for advice on what to do. And he gets practically none—none practical, at least. But what Ramis’ divorced father does give him is the sort of honest, warmhearted, yet realistic parental advice that his son really needs. No platitudes, no easy answers, but a palpable sense of understanding and love, all delivered with Ramis’ signature warmth and twinkling eyes. He’s a man who has been around, loves his son, and cares too much about what’s actually best for him to pretend to have any answers. It’s honestly one of the warmest, most realistic father-son relationships I’ve ever seen—and I feel improbably bereft that Ramis won’t be around any more.

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!

>>>Videoport customer Katie B. suggests paying tribute to Harold Ramis by get a little worked up over Stripes (in Comedy.) I’ve always loved Harold Ramis as a director, writer, and his characters. Rewatching “Stripes” once when I was home sick and grown up I was floored at the bathtub scene with Sean Young (bless her crazy heart). In my lusty delirium I rewound the scene a couple of times – suddenly I was lusting after Harold Ramis. He became a sensual nerd. I never got over that. I’ve been crushing on him since.

Free Kids Friday! One free rental from the Kids section, no other rental necessary!

>>>It’s free.

Having a Wild Weekend! Rent two movies, and get a third one for free from any section!

>>>For Saturday, A throwback from 2009, when the great Justin Ellis and I commiserated over Ramis’ disappointing Year One—and comforted ourselves with our mutual love for the man. Dennis: “I had high hopes for this one, and why wouldn’t I? I think both Jack Black and Michael Cera are funny guys. The script was co-written by a couple of writers from ‘The Office.’ It’s got supporting parts from surefire funny folks like David Cross, Oliver Platt, Paul Rudd, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Hank Azaria, and Bill Hader. And it was also co-written, and directed by, Harold Ramis, who, in addition to being a really charming and funny guy, has, if you check out his resume, had a hand in some of my all-time personal comedy favorites. ‘Caddyshack?’ ‘Meatballs?’ ‘Ghostbusters?’ ‘Stripes?’ ‘Animal House?’ ‘Back to School?’ ‘Groundhog Day?’ I cannot overstate how important this guy has been to the development of my own sense of humor. (‘Gee, thanks,’ I can hear some of you say). Well, I gotta say this knockabout comedy, about a hapless pair of bumbling cavemen who stumble into some of the Bible’s most popular set pieces, is a big letdown. And I am bummed out. Shooting for a ‘Life of Brian’ level hilarity, ‘Year One’ ends up delivering ‘Wholly Moses-level laughs’ (look that one up on – yeah, ouch). Actually, I compared it to Mel Brook’s ‘History of the World – Part 1′ as I was watching it; lazy script going for easy laughs redeemed, when it is, by some inspired, loony performance bits from funny actors, but ultimately a flabby disappointment. In the movie’s defense, and to make myself feel better, I will say that Black and Cera make a funny team, with Jables’ trademark comic bluster blending nicely with Cera’s trademark time-released underplaying, and Cross is especially funny as a predictably-untrustworthy Cain. (Those who babble on about ‘being tired of Jack Black and Michael Cera’s schticks’ are just white noise to me; the guys are funny and good at what they do. So sue them.) Still and all, a mildly-disappointing timewaster. The commentary with the two stars and the ever-affable and warm Ramis is more enjoyable. (And, yes, the Ramis’ commentary does make Year One worth a rental.]”     Justin: “Way to bring us all down to earth compadre. Do you feel a little personally wounded by a Ramis misfire? Do you need some time to compose yourself? Should I come over with a six-pack of PBR and some Oreos? I’ll do it buddy. It’s not easy seeing your heroes take a bit of a tumble, and that’s the case here. You joke that Ramis played a part in developing your humor, but I would lay good odds that he’s had a role in EVERYONE around our generation’s sense of humor. I defy you to not name at least ONE Ramis flick you like America. Do it. As for ‘Year One,’ this is shades of what we talked about last week: the parts not adding up to the whole. I absolutely LOVE Cera and Black, but for me, this has a knock-it-out-of-the-park comedy support staff. Rudd, Cross, Azaria AND Hader? Gold. While I see your comparison to ‘History of The World Part 1,’ I think Brooks almost always plays for the hard schtick over a solid script, so maybe not the best comparison. (Also, I love ‘History of the World’ more than anything. The FIRST Brooks movie I saw as a kid. Changed me. I could sing you ‘The Inquisition’ right now.) Maybe Ramis is getting a little long in the tooth, maybe the historic comedy is a tough sell, or maybe this one is just a miss. We’ll put it near the back of a long list of hits from the man that gave us ‘Caddyshack.’”

>>>For Sunday, Dennis (cannibalizing his column from the Press Herald) suggests Muscle Shoals (in Documentary.) Spurred by the release of the Coen Brothers’ “Inside Llewyn Davis,” a few weeks ago, I devoted this column to examining the difficulty in trying to depict a musical genius in a movie. Eventually, not being a musical genius, I resigned with a shrug, concluding that a great piece of music comes from innate talent, individual history, and that elusive stuff I simply will never understand. But can musical greatness arise from a place? That’s the argument put forth by the new musical documentary “Muscle Shoals”, a beguilingly entertaining history of the tiny, titular Alabama town which is the unlikely birthplace of a truly startling array of classic popular music. Focusing on the hardscrabble life story of legendary producer Rick Hall, Greg Camalier’s film, apart from providing an intriguing and surprising history behind some of your favorite songs and artists, also posits that there’s something ineffably inspirational about Muscle Shoals itself which made those songs what they are. An alchemy of place, and history, and the ever-murmuring Tennessee River running beside the deep, dark Alabama earth which seeped into the music made there, and the musicians who made it. Unfortunately, that theme of the film remains as elusive. I’m all for appreciating the unknowability of the creative process, but, even coming from the mouths of musical legends like Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Jimmy Cliff, Percy Sledge, Bono, Gregg Allman, and Etta James, the idea that the town of Muscle Shoals can impart some mystical flavor to music made there comes off more like self-mythologizing. Apart from blurry assertions like, “Being there does inspire you to do it slightly differently,” or “People go to a place with a sort of magic to it,” or “There are certain places where there is a field of energy,” the film offers little explanation of why the “Muscle Shoals sound” was so fertile. More convincing, and fascinating, is the documentary’s portrait of driven producer Hall and his chosen backup players the Swampers, possibly the least-likely soul, R&B, and rock gods imaginable, and how Hall’s modest Fame Studio became the most sought-after recording facility in the world. Hall, presented as an irascible, exacting perfectionist needed a backup band to record with local African American singers and hired the Swampers, a group of white teenagers. Backing up black singer Arthur Alexander, the Swampers provided a layered, shockingly funky groove which soon led to Alexander’s songs being covered by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones—and brought the world knocking on Fame Studios’ doors in search of its signature sound. They were in for a shock (as was I)—as Bono puts it, “People came expecting black guys and instead found a bunch of white guys who look like they work at the supermarket.” The racial aspect of the film is both idealized and underdeveloped, but never less than fascinating, with numerous musicians extolling how Fame operated as an oasis of harmony in the 1960s Deep South, with black and white musicians coming together in harmony in pursuit of, well, harmonies. The present day Swampers (who eventually broke off to set up the equally-legendary 3614 Jackson Avenue Studio across town) indeed look like nothing less than everybody’s soft-spoken uncles, but they, indeed provided the backbone to some of the most indelible R&B songs of all time. Aretha Franklin, who admiringly states, “I didn’t think they’d be as greasy as they were,” sings in front of them on “I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You,” and “Respect.” They were Percy Sledge’s band for “When A Man Loves A Woman.” That’s them on the Staples Singers’ “I’ll Take You There,” and Jimmy Cliff’s “Sitting In Limbo.” And when the Rolling Stones came to Muscle Shoals in order to partake of the town’s soul history, the Swampers (aka The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section) were the session men on “Wild Horses” and “Brown Sugar.” The list of artists who enlisted the Swampers and/or Rick Hall to bring that Muscle Shoals sound is astounding. The film, which ambles alongside the soft, Southern voices of now-old men and languorous shots of the unassuming Alabama countryside that, for reasons that remain unclear, gave rise to one of the most unsung and influential movements in American music, may not provide many answers. But it, like Muscle Shoals itself, provides a hell of a lot of great music.

New Releases this week at Videoport: Thor: The Dark World (He’s big! He’s blonde! He’s got a really big…hammer! Strapping Aussie Chris Hemsworth is back battling Tim Hiddleston’s deliciously evil Loki in this entertaining Marvel Comics movie), Gravity (Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are stranded in space in this Best Picture-nominated sci fi flick from talented director Alfonso Cuaron [Y Tu Mama Tambien, Children Of Men]; heard it’s great, as is this joke from Tina Fey and Amy Poehler at the Golden Globes: “’Gravity’ is nominated for best film. It’s the story of how George Clooney would rather float away into space and die than spend one more minute with a woman his own age.”), Nebraska (Another Best Picture nominee, this indie road movie from director Alexander Payne [Election, Citizen Ruth, Sideways] with Bruce Dern and son Will Forte heading cross country and sorting out their issues), Adventure Time- season 3 (everyone loves this supposedly-for-kids animated series; except Videoport’s April—she’s still a nice person…), Blue Is The Warmest Color (the good people at Criterion are putting out their typically-gorgeous, deluxe treatment of this acclaimed French drama, a years-spanning love story about a young woman whose tumultuous, passionate affair with another woman changes her life), Muscle Shoals (music documentary about the titular, legendary Southern recording studio, which was instrumental in more of your favorite songs than you could possibly know), Legit- season 1 (funny, rude sitcom starring brash Aussie comic Jim Jeffries as himself, plying his trade and basically being slobby and disreputable every week), Mr. Nobody (Oscar nominee Jared Leto stars in this trippy sort-of sci fi drama about a very old man in the future who, looking back on his life, imagines the alternate timelines he thinks were caused by one fateful decision; pair it up with the Community episode “Remedial Chaos Theory” [season 3, episode 4] which explores a similar idea—and is undoubtedly more fun), Twice Born (intense drama about single mother Penelope Cruz, who decides to return to Sarajevo years after her husband was slain there), Narco Cultura (documentary about how, shockingly, poor people from depressed and exploited countries often turn to illegal drug trafficking to escape their hideous, hopeless lives ), Diana (Naomi Watts stars as the inexplicably beloved former member of a figurehead royal family who died; apologies to everyone’s mom…), Memory Of The Dead (crazy horror from Argentina, with a widow luring a group of people at an isolated mansion in order to resurrect her dead husband—and probably kill a whole bunch of people in the process; good reviews and an over-the-top look)

New Arrivals this week at Videoport: Space Jam (now back at Videoport on DVD, watch Michael Jordan smirk his way through a half-animated movie playing basketball with the Looney Tunes! And Bill Murray! It’s actually kind of funny…)

New Blu-Rays At Videoport: Miracle, Gravity, Blue Is The Warmest Color, Mr. Nobody, Thor: The Dark World

Be nice to our DVDs. Seriously.

There’s literally nothing we here at Videoport obsess about more than the health and safety of our precious movies. It’s our crusade, our raison d’etre—it’s given us nightmares, and made us wake up in cold sweats. As a small, independent video store, you might say that the safety of our movies is the most important thing in our jobs. So, when someone—not you, dear reader, never you—returns a movie that is: scratched up, smeared with prints, bearing water spots (at least we hope it’s water), etc, you might understand our skepticism at the “it was like that when I got it” lip service we often get. Like, super-skeptical, since we inspect and clean every single movie that goes out and comes back!! Look, sometimes a DVD won’t work right—anyone who claims differently is lying. But we here at Videoport clean every disc that goes out, buff any disc that has scratches on it, and basically treat our precious movies better than you do your (or we, our) kids. So, if you wanna lessen our night-sweats, and help Videoport out:

1. Never touch the shiny side of a DVD,

2. Never leave a DVD out of its case.

3. Don’t let kids handle our DVDs.

4. Get a real DVD player—computers stink at playing DVDs.

5. See 1-4. We love you. Don’t touch the shiny side.