Volume DIII— The Punchening
For the Week of 4/7/15
Videoport gives you a free movie every day. Does that make us superheroes? Well, we are also, collectively, Batman, so yes.
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!
>>> Dennis suggests The Specials (in Incredibly Strange). It’s superhero week here at the VideoReport! (Which means that no one sent in any reviews, leaving me to cobble together this community newsletter on my own and freeing me to babble on about stuff I like! Send in your reviews to firstname.lastname@example.org to prevent this in the future!) Anyway, superhero movies have never been hotter—the coffers of Marvel and DC Comics (well, mostly Marvel) fairly burst with all the cash. Some might find it annoying, and it sort of is, especially to comics geeks (like me) tired of yet another damned Spider Man origin story. (Seriously, Marvel—“with great power comes great responsibility”—we get it.) But, as with any genre, there’s a lot of potential for greatness in the superhero idea. Playing it straight and doing it great is one way to go, although only the Christopher Nolan Batman movies have managed that (and only really The Dark Knight, flawlessly). Instead, the idea of people dressing in theatrical costumes and beating the crap out of similarly clad bad guys offers filmmakers with a more analytical—perhaps odder—sensibility to turn the genre inside out and see what falls out. Case in point, this 2000 superhero comedy, written by the now-insanely-famous James Gunn (The Guardians Of The Galaxy), which examines the dysfunctional dynamics of The Specials, “the fifth or sixth most powerful superhero team in the world.” As with the monster hit GOTG, Gunn applied his innately perverse sense of humor to undermine the concept of superheroism in every way possible. Not that The Specials don’t do good, it’s just both that they’re not very good at it, and most of the team is cynical about the gig and crabby about their own less-than-impressive powers. The cast is outstanding, underplaying the comedy of their roles to various, rewarding degrees. Thomas Hayden Church (laser beam hands) is The Mighty Strobe, team leader, who applies is super-serious, Shatner-esque bombast which clashes with his hidden insecurity. He’s being cuckolded by his bored wife Miss Indestructible (guess), played by Paget Brewster with a sad, funny weariness. Her paramour, The Weevil (“weevil’s speed and agility”?), played by a very funny Rob Lowe as the only Special remotely popular—he’s being courted by the creepily CIA-backed Crusaders, and mulls leaving the team. Then there’s Gunn himself as Minute Man (he shrinks), an unassuming guy who really only gets mad when people misinterpret his name (“Am I wearing a tri-corner hat? No!). Judy Greer is Deadly Girl (unspecified supernatural powers—one time, she summoned zombies that ate people’s faces), who, in Greer’s signature disdainful sensibleness, barely tolerates her superhero life, while conceding that she doesn’t have much choice but to stay with them. Jamie Kennedy is Amok, the sort-of reformed supervillain, whose unpredictably dangerous anti-matter powers are only second to his abrasive personality in the reasons why people don’t like him. There’s strong-but-dim American Bill, Mr. Smart, Alien Orphan Doug, Power Chick, and new recruit Nightbird, whose powers are—well, “uniquely unimpressive” might be the kindest description. What’s equally unique about this low-budget comedy is that we never see any o The Specials use their powers, instead watching them bicker over money, relationships, and the pending release of their own action figure line. It’s an odd, inventively funny little movie summed up perfectly by its tagline: “Not as good as regular superheroes, but slightly better than you.” What it teaches us about superheroing: It’s a job, it doesn’t solve your personal problems, and not everyone gets cool powers.
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!
>>>Emily S. Customer suggests Futurama, “Less than Hero” (S4, ep4). Here’s why you should always read your medication labels carefully. When Leela and Fry sooth their sore muscles with an application of Dr. FlimFlam’s Miracle Cream, they experience some minor side effects… like superhero strength, invulnerability to attack, and lickety-speed. (Okay, not so minor. So sure me! No, wait, only sue Dr. FlimFlam, and only if you have a solid case to present.) Suddenly endowed with superhero abilities, the two take on secret identities of Clobberella and Captain Yesterday, forming the New Justice League (along with Spuer King, a.k.a., Bender — who, y’know, always had the power to prevent crime and instead chose to tolerate and occasionally commit it, but whatever). Will The New Justice League be able to stop The Zookeeper from stealing the quantum gemerald? Will their fight for justice interfere with Leela’s parents’ special trip to the surface? Will Leela’s parents recognize their daughter despite the mask that does so very, very little to obscure her identity because I mean c’mon she’s a one-eyed purple-ponytailed babe and COME ON. Will you be able to stop humming the New Justice League song? Tune in — same robot time, same robot channel — to find out.
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 Mystery Men (in Comedy). A lot like The Specials, this 1999 comedy follows an inept super-team as they try to overcome their individual problems and singularly unimpressive powers to save the day. A lot broader and more scattershot than the sly Specials, Mystery Men is nonetheless a hoot, with the overqualified cast similarly bringing home their characters’ insecurities and questionable abilities in the film’s cartoonishly weird pseudo-Gotham city setting. There’s Ben Stiller’s Mr. Furious, whose strength increases as he gets angry (in theory). Janeane Garofolo is The Bowler (she can control a bowling ball which contains her hero father’s skull.) Kel Mitchell is Invisible Boy, who claims to be invisible as long as no one is watching him. William H. Macy is hilarious as The Shoveler, a sad-sack family man who goes into battle and whacks people with a shovel. Wes Studi is mentor The Sphinx, whose powers are “very mysterious,” although someone heard once that he can cut guns in half with his mind. Hank Azaria is the Blue Raja, who dresses sort-of like a swami (in green) and is moderately adept at throwing forks at people. And Paul (Pee Wee Herman) Reubens is The Spleen, who has—sigh—weaponized flatulence. Throw in funny turns from Tom Waits as their weapon supplier, Greg Kinnear as the city’s “real hero,” the egotistical Captain Amazing, and a thoroughly, delightfully hammy Geoffrey Wright as the impeccably named villain Casanova Frankenstein. It’s a scattershot comedy, splitting time between big, goofy special effect gags and loosy-goosy improv-y verbal bits from the underplaying cast, but it’s also frequently very funny. What it teaches us about superheroing: It’s the size of your heart that counts. Oh, and also some rudimentary training and a whole lot of luck.
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 Super (in Incredibly Strange). Hey, it’s James Gunn again, writing and directing this 2010 dark, dark, insane superhero comedy starring The Office’s Rainn Wilson. Wilson plays a poor shlub of a guy who goes nuts when his improbably beautiful ex-junkie wife (Liv Tyler) is seduced and re-addicted by super-sleazy drug dealer Kevin Bacon (who’s very funny here). Suffering in impotent misery, Wilson is visited (and graphically scalped) by the voice/tentacles of God (or he’s just nuts) and sees the way to win his wife back—by dressing in a very unflattering red costume and braining evildoers with a wrench as The Crimson Bolt. Wilson’s improbably affecting, when he’s not being terrifyingly unbalanced, and, as his unwanted sidekick, the comic book-obsessed Boltie, Ellen Page brings an even more violent and bananas commitment to the crusade, culminating in an over-the-top and bloody raid on Bacon’s mansion. It’s dark—as much a character study of repressed madness as a superhero movie—but Super is also unnervingly entertaining. What it teaches us about superheroing: In the real world, dressing weird does not take the crazy out of indiscriminately bashing people who’ve annoyed you with a wrench.
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!
>>> It’s a free kids movie! There are a lot to choose from! For free!
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 Harvey Birdman: Attorney At Law (in Animation). Before Michael Keaton, there was Birdman! Remember Birdman? Winged cartoon superhero from the beloved Hanna-Barbera stable of stiff, barely-animated superheroes? Anyone? Well, no, of course you don’t—he was a nothing. Even little kids were bored with him. Well, this bonkers animated series had the idea that, after his superheroing days were done, Birdman (first name Harvey, apparently) went to law school and started practicing superhero law, exclusively defending other famous Hanna-Barbera cartoon characters. It’s of the spazzy, rapid-fire Adult Swim animated comedy genre, which I think is hilarious when done well (Sealab, Frisky Dingo, Archer, Aqua Teen Hunger Force) and exhausting when done poorly (Squidbillies, Superjail). Thankfully, Harvey Birdman is pretty damned funny, with the ultra-square Birdman blessedly voiced by the great Gary Cole (Veep, Talladega Nights, Dodgeball) as he defends Scooby and Shaggy for being stoners, Fred Flintstone for being a Sopranos-esque crime boss, and so on. Throw in a lot of random gags, recurring catchphrases, and general absurdity—plus the voice talents of Stephen Colbert as the eyepatch-sporting head of the law firm, and Christopher Guest regular Michael Hitchcock as Mentok, psychic judge. What it teaches us about superheroing: Sometimes you need a fallback career.
>>>For Sunday, Emily S. Customer suggests The Simpsons, “Treehouse of Horror X” (S11, ep4). In “Desperately Xeeking Xena,” the X-ray machine provided by Springfield Elementary to examine children’s Halloween candy malfunctions and how, leaving Bart with the ability to stretch his limbs in a manner similar to be not legally infringing upon a certain trademarked toy figurine and Lisa with immense power and strength. Together, they’re Stretch Dude and Clobber Girl, cleaning up the streets and keeping Springfield safe from weirdos. When The Collector (more commonly known as Comic Book Guy) tries to collect guest star Lucy Lawless, Stretch Dude and Clobber Girl swing into action, only to find themselves in over their heads.
>>>Dennis suggests Unbreakable (in Mystery/Thriller.) Okya, even listing this particular movie in this particular themed issue is something of a spoiler, but, well, it’s 15 years old at this point, so deal with it. The Sixth Sense gets all the praise, but I think this movie from M. Night Shyamalan and star Bruce Willis is better. Willis plays a family man who works as a security guard and, after a horrific train crash, realizes that not only was he the only survivor, but he has never been hurt, or sick, a single day in his life. It’s only when he’s contacted by a mysterious, cane-hobbled man played by Samuel L. Jackson does Willis start to examine what those facts really mean. Dark, moody, and deliberately, meticulously creepy, this nigh-unclassifiable movie is riveting and as smart about the superhero genre as any ever made. What it teaches us about superheroing: Well, that would be telling, wouldn’t it?
New Releases this week at Videoport: A Most Violent Year (Great looking, gritty indie drama about an immigrant businessman in 1981 New York City [Inside Llewyn Davis’ Oscar Isaac] who seeks to keep his business afloat by any means necessary; great cast includes Jessica Chastain and Selma’s David Oyelowo), The Book Of Negroes (Wrenching miniseries follows a kidnapped African woman sold into slavery in America; starring Aunjanue Ellis, Lou Gossett, Jr. and Cuba Gooding Jr. ), The Immigrant (James Gray directed this 2013 sprawling drama about an innocent woman who comes to America at the turn of the century, only to find herself tricked into a life of servitude, until a magnetic magician looks to save her and reunite her with her sister. Great cast includes Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix, and Jeremy Renner), The Voices (Super-dark comedy about a mild-mannered guy who may or may not be imagining that his pets are evil and telling him to kill people. When the girl of his dreams stands him up—what will his furry pals make him do? Starring Ryan Reynolds, Gemma Arterton, and Portland’s own Ana Kendrick!), Home Sweet Hell (Professionally unlikable Kathere Heigl stars in this dark comedy about a housewife who goes murderously bananas when she discovers her husband [terminally shifty Patrick Wilson] is having an affair. Con: Jim Belushi’s in it. Pro: He might get horribly murdered!), The Rewrite (Hugh Grant is at it again, being all charming and stammer-y, and vaguely disreputable in this romantic drama about a struggling screenwriter who takes a job teaching screenwriting, only to find that one of his students is really good at screenwriting! And since said student is played by the lovely Marissa Tomei, can he keep both his hands and his professional jealousy to himself? Rent it and see! ), Inside Amy Schumer- seasons 1&2 (Very funny and filthy sketch comedy series from standup comic Schumer, who’s about to get super-famous as the star of Judd Apatow’s next movie Trainwreck), To Go Viking (Documentary follows a group of young people from Philadelphia as they take part in an international, full-contact series of Viking combat competitions. Ever watch Vikings and think, “I’d look really good wielding a battle axe”? Then this is the documentary for you!)
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