VideoReport #442

Volume CDXLII- 2014: The Year Videoport Said Goodbye To One Of The Best Actors Of All Time. Dammit…

For the Week of 2/4/14

Videoport gives you a free movie every day. Except for that one day when—wait, what? Nope, we give you free movie on that day, too…

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 not watching any Philip Seymour Hoffman movies for a while. I mean, you guys can do what you want, but I’m going to resist the urge to dive in and wallow in depression for at least a bit—honestly, I’m just not sure I could take it right now. Especially as Hoffman’s specialty was the embodiment of desperate, wracking loneliness and sadness. Sure, he had a little fun along the way: he brought some needed gravitas and comic evil snap to his Big Bad in Mission Impossible III, was delightfully unctuous and slimy as hateful WASPs in Scent Of A Woman, and The Talented Mr. Ripley, goofed around with Amy Sedaris in Strangers With Candy, and confidently essayed the befuddled, decidedly un-confident screenwriter and would-be lover in David Mamet’s charming State And Main, played an uncharacteristic a-hole jock humorously in My Boyfriend’s Back and an uncharacteristic Hollywood dick livening up the otherwise forgettable Along Came Polly— and we’ll always have The Big Lebowski’s Brandt… But no, PSH’s wheelhouse was for pain—and I’m just not in the mood for more of that right now, especially not so peerlessly embodied by Hoffman, easily one of the best actors of the last 20 years. Look at even a small, seemingly insignificant role like his unnamed craps player in Paul Thomas Anderson’s mesmerizingly good first feature Hard Eight. Drunk and obnoxious, Hoffman’s gambler spouts catchphrases, makes odd noises, and taunts veteran gambler Philip Baker Hall—until he sees the old man whip out a roll and start making big, ballsy bets. Then Hoffman’s gambler latches onto him with admiration, changing his singsong dice-rolling patter to incorporate this dour old man, whom he begins calling “Big Time”—it’s a one scene wonder of a role, where Hoffman’s able to convey a whole lot of backstory onto a seemingly one-note part where, under the obnoxiousness, we see tantalizing, fascinating hints of the neediness, sadness, and desperation inside. Watch Hoffman when the old man, betting on Hoffman’s rolls, busts out—the complex interplay of emotions Hoffman takes him through in about ten seconds is heartbreaking, is astounding. (Hard Eight is a movie you should just see anyway.) Of course, Hoffman became a much, much bigger star since that point, winning the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Truman Capote in, well, Capote, a role where the mechanics of impersonation give way to a nimbly devastating examination of a desperately sad, tormented man who finds himself all but destroyed by truths too big for him to process. It’s a truly great performance (and you should team it up for a double feature with Infamous, where British actor Toby Jones essays the same character—both are outstanding.) But if there are roles more closely associated in my mind with Hoffman, it’s those where he brings to life characters so sad, so damaged, so isolated and lonely, so utterly crushed by life that, well, they’d be hard for me to watch right now. From the achingly-needy and awkward porno soundman Scotty J. in Anderson’s classic Boogie Nights, turning this possible pathetic figure of fun into a near-tragic figure of unrequited love, of unrequited everything. To the widower of Love, Liza, a man so shattered by his wife’s suicide that he cannot bring himself to open the last letter she left him but, instead, embarks on a days-long diversion where he tries to convince himself and others that he is capable of functioning like a person with a still-intact soul. To his sweaty, self-destructive turn as the real life protagonist of Owning Mahowny, a mild-mannered banker who simply cannot stop himself from embezzling money to feed his casino gambling addiction—maybe just for the sense of companionship and self-worth he derives from casino boss John Hurt. There’s his heedlessly longing high school teacher pining mournfully over student Anna Paquin and lending able best friend support to doomed-to-prison best friend Ed Norton in Spike Lee’s great 25th Hour. There’s his gross, creepy obscene phone caller/stalker in Todd Solondz’ still-wrenching Happiness, whom Hoffman somehow imbues with a tortured, paradoxical humanity…even as he’s doing some very unpalatable things. There’s my favorite PSH performance in Anderson’s Magnolia, as Phil Parma, male nurse to dying Jason Robards, whose everyman, commonplace decency amidst a world of pain and confusion is unutterably moving and hopeful—look at him navigating the tangle of anonymous phone tree of underlings in order to reach the man he believes is Robards’ estranged son and try not to feel poor, decent Phil is simply the kindest, most courageous man in the universe. If only for a moment. Everyone remembers him stealing scenes (and the whole movie) in Almost Famous as famed rock critic Lester Bangs, giving reassuring advice to neophyte writer Patrick Fugit about the virtues of “Not being cool.” He brought a soulfulness to the drag queen helping stroke-addled Robert DeNiro in Flawless. He brought an undercurrent of black self-loathing to the manipulative villain of Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead. He was, yes, masterful as the L. Ron Hubbard-esque guru of Anderson’s The Master. And then there’s Synecdoche, NY, which may be one of the most depressing, bewildering movies ever made—so, of course director Charlie Kaufman called PSH. In it, a sad, tortured, ineffectual artist receives a grant to stage his dream project—a life-sized replica of his own life inside a huge NYC warehouse. Only his vision is so sad, so all-encompassingly bleak and pervasive, that it seemingly starts to infect the whole world with a plague of futility, disappointment, heartbreak, and, ultimately, death. So I guess I’ll just stop there…

>>>Videoport customer Brooks says: “I watched Love, Liza awhile back and his performance was heartbreaking. One of those movies that touches you deeply, especially if you have known and loved an addict, but a movie you never want to watch again. Particularly tragic now.

>>>Videoport customer John D. says: “He gave everything to each role. I’m having a hard time dealing with this. Glad you took this route this week. Might as well go all month… To offer perspective, when JFK, RFK, MLK and John Lennon died, they were just guys in our milieu at the time, whose loss was crushing, but have since been elevated to exalted heights. Losing Phil Hartman was awful too. I can’t imagine how these heroes would have been handled in today’s internet era, but I do know, and feel, the same sense of loss. Even though the spread of information was slower, I’m sure the news of Lincoln’s death was equally devastating on the populace. In the end, regardless of our slice of time in this world, the heroes who fall in whatever manner, contribute mightily to our future, and the effect on us all are equally profound.”

>>>Nacy Rat Rat responds: “Thank you for comparing PSH to John Lennon, or someone of equal “cultural” important. He feels like sucha cult figure, like his death won’t resonate in pop culture the way it is in my personal experience, so it’s nice to hear someone give it that “weight”.”

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 Boogie Nights (in Feature Drama.) It’s funny: there’s so much to remember of Boogie Nights, so many highs and lows and intense, visceral moments. But for me, Boogie Nights always means one thing: Scottie. He’s a peripheral player at best, and that’s central to his character’s plight. Scotty isn’t a charismatic adult-film star or a self-assured producer or even a swaggering hanger-on; he’s the boom-mike guy. He’s right there, always on the sideline, watching silently and taking it all in. He’s all but invisible; that’s his job. When Scotty falls under the artless magnetism of Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg’s puppyish porn star), no one even seems to notice. This role could have been pure buffoonery, a crass laugh line punctuating the drama and pathos of the larger narrative. But thanks to director Paul Thomas Anderson and the finely tuned mastery of Philip Seymour Hoffman, Scotty is more than a punchline: he’s poignant, a heartplucking balance of comedy and tragedy, a mirror turned upon us. Scotty’s open adoration could be repulsive, even sinister, but Hoffman makes him so affecting, so true and human. He stumbles, he stammers, he pulls his heart out for everyone to see… but they just don’t. Hoffman has played greater, more important roles, but perhaps none that displays his technical artistry better: even his complexion plays out Scotty’s inner self. He flushes with ardor and hope, he flushes or pales with self-loathing. Every inch of him yearns and suffers in turn, and every inch of me cringes or craves along with him.

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!

>>>Videoport customer Deb. T. apologizes. I actually thought about writing one up for you on a PSH film, but got overwhelmed by all the options and just how good – and different he was – in all of them. From Magnolia and Synecdoche NY to Doubt and The Master – he could play someone so sweet and sad to powerful and morally questionable. Happiness, Boogie Nights, Almost Famous. It’s too much to consider. I don’t think there’s another actor out there where I would just see the film based on the fact that he was in it. Sorry.

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 The Invention Of Lying (in Comedy.) Most of the reflections on the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman will focus on his biggest, best, most dramatic roles – The Master, Magnolia, Hard Eight, Synecdoche, New York, Capote, Doubt – and fairly so. He’s a giant of the cinema, and he will be best remembered for those indelible characters. But his talent was both deep and wide. He had room in his repertoire for both those staggering, affecting dramas and for the lightest of fare, and whatever role he played, he played it absolutely: without a glimmer of doubt, without coming up for air. He treated a frill or walk-on as soberly as a starring role. For a stellar example of this dedication and immersion, you need look no further than the Ricky Gervais vehicle The Invention of Lying. Hoffman is on screen just a few gleaming minutes, as Jim the Bartender, upon whom Gervais’ Mark tries out his new-found strategy of (gasp!) not telling the truth. In a world where no one has ever thought to lie, this tactic is utterly effective, bowling over the credulous crowds like pins. And no one is more guilelessly, effortlessly accepting of Mark’s lies than Jim, the affable fella who pours you a drink and listens to your woes. Here, Hoffman is no titan or villain, no cringing second banana or put-upon Nice Guy. He’s every inch the unsuspecting everyman, immersed in his part with an open-eyed innocence and familiarity and humor that does more to sell the film’s deeply flawed premise than any other ten actors combined.

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>>>It’s free.

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>>>For Saturday, Emily S. Customer suggests Synecdoche, NY (in Incredibly Strange.) I approached this film with a combination of exhilaration and dread. And I’ll be honest: that’s about right. As Charlie Kaufman’s directorial debut, it seemed too ambitious, too monumental, too l_383028_928c7d08sweeping a scale for a rookie to tackle. But the combination was unassailable, its appeal to me undeniable: Kaufman, sure, but also Philip Seymour Hoffman, the greatest actor of his generation. (I notice that headlines and eulogies are adding the weasel-words “arguably” and “perhaps” to that distinction, and I spent part of Sunday night trying and failing to name a greater actor of his cohort. I cannot think of one. He’s in the pantheon with Streep and DeNiro and a handful of others whose performances transformed cinema, made it greater and broader and deeper than it had been before.) The film grapples with loss and betrayal and the slow, inevitable depredations that time visits on us all. It namechecks Cotard delusion, a peculiar entry in the short catalog of medical curiosities I visit and revisit with near-obsessive fixation. There was no way to escape this film; it could have been custom-crafted to draw me in. The first time I watched Synecdoche, New York, I was more than frustrated with the film; I found myself actively hostile to it. The pace felt interminable, the story even more tangled and confusing than I expect, the characters insufferable. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it all night and all the next day. It haunted me: the images of recursion, the touches of perplexing and uncertain smoke here and there, the fragile relationships between characters. The very next night, I watched it again, all but cursing myself for the punishment it was sure to be. And it was revelatory. The crawling slack that had so tormented me – because it couldn’t possibly outpace my anxiety and anticipation – on second viewing revealed itself as the perfect pace to unfold this meditation on loss and love and ambition, on the terrible truth that we are all doomed to an unfinished life. Synecdoche, New York explores the tragedy and beauty of a life limited by this frail humanity, an elegiac rumination on the impossibility of fully realizing our dreams and desires, and the tremendous power in trying to do so anyhow.

>>>For Sunday, Videoport customer Nacy Rat Rat says: “Philip Seymour Hoffman is an interesting actor for anyone who came of age in the late 90s/early 2000s…. I think we all (meaning us who are currently 25-35) watched Almost Famous, knowing that we were either supposed to identify emotionally with the 15-year-old kid, the groupie, or the rock star… but actually identified with Lester Bangs and I think that is solely based on the power of Philip’s performance. So many little bit of his passive, cool-as-f*ck wisdom permeated my little psyche from that movie, and then I watched Philip “come of age” in his own sense as one of the most profoundly important character actors…ever. From then on, I think, for us, he became a character actor just universally known as “good”, no matter what film he is in. Not only was he good, but he was willing to be gross and wrong and true in a way few actors are. Jimmy Stewart could never jack off during a phone conversation with a stranger. The Master is probably the strongest and most f*cked-up character piece I’ve seen, ever, and he f*cking carried Synecdoche NY, all by himself, on his own damn shoulders. He is a shiver-inducing kind of evocative, with all of the beauty and craft of our generation’s more well-known character actors, without all the pomp, circumstance and douchebaggery. I do think, despite the fact that Johnny Cash, Lou Reed and James Gandolfini died in my lifetime, this is the saddest and most profound celebrity death I can remember. He had already knocked it out of the park so many times, but you still felt like he had more to give, because he did…. If you are someone who gives a damn about movies, likes it when things are done right, and wants characters to be loved with all of their f*cked-up complexity, than this is a sad day for you, and it’s kind of surprisingly hard to shake.


New Releases this week at Videoport: About Time (a young guy discovers that the men in his family have the ability to travel back in time and uses it to manipulate his relationship with girlfriend Rachel McAdams; from the director of Love Actually, who assures us all that this is romantic and funny but not creepy in any way), Banshee Chapter (another horror film based on the works of H.P. Lovecraft, this time on his short story From Beyond; it’s about a reporter investigating her friend’s death and uncovering secret government drug experiments and more icky stuff; starring Ted Levine as an obvious Hunter Thompson character—pair it with Stuart Gordon’s From Beyond!), Chasing Shackleton (six guys decide to set sail in a replica ship and re-enact the ill-fated Antarctic journey of the titular explorer), Dallas Buyers Club (Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto star in this fact-based drama about a sh*t-kicking Texas womanizer who circumvents the feds in order to obtain experimental medications for himself and other AIDS-afflicted patients in the 80s), Escape Plan (HGH fans Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger team up for this action thriller about a security expert who gets thrown into one of the high tech prisons he once said were inescapable! I wonder if he’ll escape?), Justice League War (based on the unconscionable DC Comics reboot which destroyed everything comics nerds held dear [we’re not bitter], this animated feature follows the formation of the bastard, revamped Justice League; we might be bitter…), Got The Facts On Milk? (Wait, milk’s bad now? Well, watch this documentary and find out…), McConkey (documentary about the titular guy, who made extreme sports like Basejumping and freeskiing popular enough for you to never try them), Romeo And Juliet (another version of the Shakespeare—this time starring the girl from True Grit, the kid from The Road, and Brody from Homeland), The White Queen (Queen Elizabeth and other super-hot historical babes vie for power in this action-packed historical series that I’m sure is scrupulously accurate!), Downton Abbey- season 4 (does his lordship and the duchess find the…poacher…of the manor’s…pheasants? Confession: I have never seen this show. But you guys seem to like it!), Dario Argento’s Dracula (long-overrated “Italian master of horror” Argento brings out his version of the numbingly overfilmed Dracula story! everyone laughed at it! It’s got Rutger Hauer!), Charlie Countryman (serial plagiarist Shia LaBeouf stars in this thriller about an American guy whose infatuation with a Romanian beauty runs him into trouble with the likes of Mads Mikkelsen, Vincent D’Onofrio, and Ron Weasley), Free Birds (the likes of Amy Poehler, Woody Harrelson, and Owen Wilson give voice to animated game birds in this film about turkeys going back in time to try and convince humans not to eat all the turkeys), Cutie And The Boxer (Oscar-nominated documentary about famed boxing painter Ushio Shinohara and his long-suffering wife Noriko), The Crash Reel (affecting documentary about snowboarding hotshot Kevin Pearce and his attempts to return to the extreme sports world after a horrific injury on the half pipe)

New Arrivals This Week At Videoport: 200 Motels (Videoport delights all the Frank Zappa fans out there by buying this typically-nutball Zappa flick from 1971), The Dream Team (Michael Keaton is still freaking hilarious in this 1989 comedy about a quartet of mental patients stranded in NYC when their therapist is knocked out during a field trip), American Girl: Sage Paints The Sky (based on the doll line! Girls like it!)

New Blu-Rays At Videoport: About Time, Dallas Buyers Club, Escape Plan