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December 15, 2004

DVD Blowout

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Enough with lightweight topics like diversity in the academy. It's time for a meaningful posting! How about bargain DVDs?

I just noticed that Amazon has reduced prices on lots of DVDs. I thought I'd pass along the titles of some of the on-sale movies that I've enjoyed. Maybe a few other people will enjoy them too. At these prices, what's the risk in giving a few of them a try? Besides, I love opinionating about movies.

$5.99 will get you:

  • Sweet Dreams. A touching and intense biopic about the country singer Patsy Cline, with terrific performances by Jessica Lange and Ed Harris, and a script by Robert Getchell that's a canny and insightful piece of engineering. Getchell and the film's director Karel Reisz chose not to do the usual biopic thing -- to tell the story of Patsy Cline's entire life. Instead, they focused on one clear dramatic arc: Patsy's relationship with her husband. Set against lush country music, some of the film's scenes are as wrenching as anything in Strindberg. I found the movie an amazingly emotional experience.

  • Home Fries. This Drew Barrymore movie wasn't one of her more popular movies, and you can see why: it's darker, more sophisticated, and more dramatic than what her fans expect. But it's also a rewarding sad/sweet film, with a lyrical fondness for lower-class, country-white life that Hollywood rarely shows; it's reminiscent of some of Jonathan Demme's early movies. Playing a hopeful mess, Drew herself is awfully good; it's my favorite of the performances of hers that I've seen, not that I've seen many. Directed by Dean Parisot, who also directed the very funny GalaxyQuest, now on sale for $9.74.

  • City Hall. It's certainly imperfect, but this New York-set political melodrama has grit, suspense, tiptop performances, and a number of sensationally well-written and well-acted scenes. Do many movies offer half as much? (I can never understand people who beef more about a half-satisfying movie than they do about a stinker. Half-satisfying's pretty darned good.) Al Pacino delivers one of his best performances, IMHO. He's as full of zest as ever, but he shows how subtle he can be too. Working with dialog by Bo Goldman, Pacino gives a masterclass in subtext. Watch how he brings out layers and layers of it that you never saw coming. What an actor!

  • Gia. I couldn't tell whether Amazon is offering the R-rated or the Unrated version of this HBO movie. If it's the R-rated version, then skip it and rent the Unrated version instead; you don't want to miss the film's farther-out moments. Based on a true story, the film stars a young Angelina Jolie, was co-written by Jay McInerny, and is about a hard-living model who became an addict and died young. It's directed in a gimmicky, over-flashy way. But it's also smart about the media life, and it's harshly sexy; it's one of the two or three movies that made Angelina Jolie's reputation. For my money, she turned into a caricature of herself all-too-soon after. But in "Gia" she's an eye-opener: flamboyant, raw, daring, and vulnerable. And, yes boys, frequently naked.

For $6.99, you can be the proud owner of:

  • Dolores Claiborne. Kathy Bates in one of her best performances. As urban-yuppie Jennifer Jason Leigh's scarily-clingy rural mom, Bates is spectacular; she really inhabits this horrifying creature, so we experience her not as a monster but as a person with understandable needs of her own. This is a Stephen King adaptation, but it's less a horror film than a Maine-set Gothic -- a working-class women's picture with horror elements stirred in. Taylor Hackford -- enough with the jokes about his name, please -- can sometimes pull together a '40s-style, over-the-top, juicy Hollywood entertainment. This was one of those times. I notice that you can buy The Devil's Advocate, another one of Hackford's Gothic, pulpy treats, for a mere $11.95.

  • Don Juan de Marco. A charming comic fable about a man (Johnny Depp) who's convinced he's the reincarnation of the world's greatest lover. Is he insane, or does he really know an impressive thing or two about women? Marlon Brando plays the shrink who tries to decide. The film isn't really very well-made, but Johnny Depp is beyond dreamy as the generous-spirited loverboy. Many women adore this movie. They melt. And when Depp fixes a woman with sincere, impassioned, loving eyes and tells her how special she is, it's not hard to see why. He's everything the rest of us guys aren't, and women wish we were.

  • The Man With 2 Brains. My favorite film from Steve Martin's Krazy Komedy period back in the '80s. It's like a Jerry Lewis sci-fi comedy, only funny. Here, Steve falls in love with a disembodied brain -- a brain in a jar, who's given voice by Kathleen Turner. That's one funny, sexy brain. [UPDATE: Annette corrects me in a comment on this posting, and writes a nice appreciation of the movie too.]

  • National Velvet. The Mickey Rooney/Elizabeth Taylor movie about a girl's love for her horse, it's rightly considered a classic. Clarence Brown directed, and didn't botch a single emotion. If you know a young girl who hasn't seen this movie, give her a copy fast.

  • Night Shift. A breezy, likable comedy with some offbeat twists. Henry Winkler plays a square who lands a job in a morgue; Shelley Long is the goofily sweet hooker he falls for. Michael Keaton plays the wild card whose schemes Winkler and Long get drawn into, and he gives one zany, whacked-out, brilliant performance; he's as much of a whirlwind of invention as Robin Williams at his best. The performance made Keaton a star, though his stardom didn't last for long. Ron Howard, directing one of his first movies, shows a gift for laid-back, spontaneous ensemble comedy that he seems to have lost in recent years.

On the other hand you could also show a little class, skip the bargain bin, and treat your special someone to this little boxed set. Hey: it's 33% off, and if that ain't a bargain ... (Thanks to Felix Salmon for the link.)



posted by Michael at December 15, 2004


1) "The Man With Two Brains" is very funny, but also one of the sweetest romances I've ever seen (really!). Actually, Kathleen Turner is not the voice of the disembodied "brain"---but I'd love to know who is, because she's got a really beautiful speaking voice. Turner is the knockout bitch Martin (a supposedly world famous brain surgeon) married, and he deeply regrets doing so. This is confirmed for him when he comes home one day and Turner (in full "Body Heat" form, this was 1984) is busy allowing men to touch her rear end. When he objects to this, she shrilly accuses him of "refusing to allow her to have a career." She's evil, evil, evil and Turner did that as well as anyone. Martin somehow gets on the same "wavelength" with a disembodied brain who is awaiting transplant into a body (some British doctor has supposedly figured brain transplants, which Martin is studying) and she's his soulmate, but can only last so long without a body. And..guess who's got a helluva body? It's worth seeing.

2) Nightshift is worth seeing, too. Henry Winkler (as the nebbish anti-Fonz in this) proves he actually can act, although nobody ever really let him do it again. Keaton is a scream.

Posted by: annette on December 15, 2004 8:46 PM

I couldn't get past whale Brando dancing on the beach with Faye Dunaway (?) in Don Juan DeMarco. That image blots out the rest of the film for me. Also I don't quite get the Johnny Depp mystique. It's some kind of a beautiful-bohemian thing. That combo either gets to you or it don't. In my case it don't.

Posted by: ricpic on December 15, 2004 10:15 PM

Annette -- Wow, you've got a lot more memory cells functioning than I do! I dimly recalled enjoying the film a lot but shoud have dug deeper for specifics. Thanks for the correction, as well as the nice evocation of the movie.

Ricpic -- "Beautiful bohemian" .. Wouldn't it be lovely to be able to work that angle?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on December 15, 2004 10:43 PM

Aren't you being a little disrespectful to Micheal Keaton? He starred in a whole bunch of movies, and must have made a bundle on "Batman" at the very least. His stardom was of quite reasonable duration, and I'm sure he's, ahem, comfortably well-off today. How many actors can say they had as good a career as he did? (If you're reading this, Michael, and you still want/intend to act, my apologies.)

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on December 16, 2004 12:08 AM

Keaton was also very cute in his day. He looks great in a tux as Bruce Wayne in "Batman". There was a stretch in the eighties where he was a bigger star than Tom Hanks, who, believe it or not, I used to get him confused with. But his true peak, and a performance that it's a crime the "Academy" didn't at least nominate him for, is "Beetlejuice". Any men who want tips on how to be a "dirty old man" (I dunno--do you guys need tips about that?) should see that one.

Posted by: annette on December 16, 2004 4:50 AM

Michael Keaton has a new movie coming out in a few weeks--a (pretty-bad-looking) horror movie about a guy who communicates with his recently-deceased-wife's ghost. Or something. But you go, Michael Keaton.

Posted by: Dick on December 16, 2004 10:45 AM

Hey, I liked Michael Keaton back in the day as much as anyone did. More power to him and we should all have his bankroll. But didn't it seem to you like his career nosedived awfully fast? 1982 to 1992, pretty much. By the time he showed up in "Jackie Brown" in 1997 he looked like someone who'd been a hasbeen for a long time and needed a Tarantino-esque rediscovery. Hanks, Willis and Schwarzennegger have all had longer runs than that. I liked him, and thought he had enough versatility to have more staying power as a leading man than he did.

Did anyone else get the same kick out of the Criterion Boxed Set as I did? I loved the sale price.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on December 16, 2004 10:57 AM

Well, ricpic, clearly you're a lot younger than I am, because I found the whole Marlon Brando-Faye Dunaway thing in Don Juan DeMarco completely charming. I loved that whole movie.

Ah yes, the beautiful bohemian, the mysterious, wounded soul -- it's a killer.

Posted by: missgrundy on December 16, 2004 11:09 AM

I did check out the boxed set, but couldn't figure out what it was a boxed set OF. The price stopped me from digging too much deeper!

Posted by: annette on December 16, 2004 11:43 AM

PS--You're more than entitled to your opinion and all...but I thought "Sweet Dreams" was awful, but maybe it was just Patsy Cline's marriage I thought was awful. All that endless fightin' and cheatin' and angst. You finally wanted to scream--"dump the loser!" But then she died in the plane crash and you felt bad and it was mercifully over. I thought "Coal Miner's Daughter" was the better country queen biopic, and Sissy Spacek did her own singing, while Jessica lip-synced Patsy. Listening to a studio recording of "Sweet Dreams" and pretending like she's singing it live in a honky tonk didn't quite work for me.

Posted by: annette on December 16, 2004 11:49 AM

Mmm, I loved all the wranglin' that you hated. You didn't think their relationship had an interesting, resonant arc? But I can certainly understand that my taste for that kind of thing may be a bit ... special, or something ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on December 16, 2004 12:27 PM

Not to get obnoxiously psych on you, but from your postings it sounds like your parents had a pretty compatible marriage with a limit on the yellin' and angst and it sounds like you largely have that, too. So a movie like this may seem distant to you and dramatic and important when they are screamin' and cryin.' I grew up in a house with too much of that, and it isn't even slightly appealing to me, nor does it seem important or resonant. Just horribly destructive and dysfuntional. That was the other thing---you wanted slap them both around and say---there are KIDS involved here, jerks! Grow up.

Posted by: annette on December 16, 2004 12:36 PM

Annette: "Actually, Kathleen Turner is not the voice of the disembodied "brain"---but I'd love to know who is, because she's got a really beautiful speaking voice."

IMDB lists Sissy Spacek as the uncredited voice of "Anne Uumellmahaye". They link the role to this quote: "Anne Uumellmahaye: I don't think there's a girl floating in a jar anywhere who's as happy as I am."


Posted by: Doug Sundseth on December 16, 2004 2:05 PM

Annette -- That sounds like a sensible theory. I came out of a pretty bland and quiet background and for years was attracted to pretty dramatic gals. Whee! The fun of it! Took me ages to understand that they were attracted to me partly because I seemed so ... well, I'm trying to avoid the word "cold." Polite and well-behaved, maybe. Reserved -- that's more like it. These extravagant girls seemed to see me as a big block of ice they could train the blowtorch on. And gosh, wasn't that lot of it fun for me. Of course, none of these little affairs lasted longer than a few months ...

I've got one male friend who comes from a noisy, quarrelsome household. And he's spent much of his life looking for a woman who can be both well-behaved and sexual with him. These childhood experiences can have pretty amazing effects on people.

A good question: how does a moviefan's upbringing affect his/her movietastes? I suspect I like "reserved" movies better than many of my warmer-blooded friends do, for example. But they've still gotta have some heart in there! Anyone want to volunteer a reflection about how your background gets reflected in your movie tastes?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on December 16, 2004 2:07 PM

Doug---Thanks! All these years---I had no idea Sissy Spacek was the voice! Funny---I think of the embodied Sissy as having a kind of nasal, twangy voice but Annie ("The Jar") had a very musical voice as I recall.

That quote is great! I'd forgotten that was the character's last name---Martin butchers it all the way through!

Posted by: annette on December 16, 2004 2:58 PM

Slowly the movie is actually coming back to me. It really was funny, wasn't it?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on December 16, 2004 3:35 PM

Night Shift has the line for our times:

"Is this a great country or what?"

Posted by: gcochran on December 16, 2004 10:42 PM

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