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Video Store Rental Reviews #2
DVD reviews in the year 2023.
For this month's edition of the column, I ran all around the video store, from documentaries to musicals to crime thrillers, from DVD to Blu-ray to 4K Ultra HD. And I came away with three great pick-ups!
American Movie (1999)
The story of filmmaker Mark Borchardt, his mission, and his dream. Spanning over two years of intense struggle with his film, his family, financial decline, and spiritual crisis. (It’s) a portrayal of ambition, obsession, excess, and one man’s quest for the American Dream.
Everyone gets those pre-approved credit cards in the mail. Most people throw them out, but when you're broker than hell and owe money to the government and to child support and to your dad and to your uncle and to whomever and whatever else, that's a free 500 bucks!
"Kick-f*cking-ass!" exclaims Mark Borchardt. "I got a MasterCard! I don't believe it, man. Life is kinda cool sometimes." He can use that money to fund the movie he's making! Not the feature film, he doesn't have the money for that, but the short film - the 35-minute horror film that he will sell 3,000 copies of for $14.95 to fund the feature film...
He's gonna make this movie no matter what. Sure, American Movie is a movie about the American Dream, hustling and working hard and becoming the millionaire you've always dreamed of being.¹ It's about not giving up, yes, but that's almost too existential (Mark does have plenty of thought-provoking, existential moments throughout the film²), because it's really about overcoming small challenge after small challenge in your pursuit of not giving up.
What do you do when you need more money? Ask your stingy uncle for a loan and convince him to be an "executive producer." What do you do when your actors can only act on weekends? Use your mom! What do you do when you need to reshoot the scene you shot two years ago where a guy's head gets thrown through a cabinet door? Hell, you throw his head through the cabinet again! Whatever it takes, because that's your dream. Your whole life. Who cares about running up a MasterCard bill that you are never going to pay?³
¹One of my favorite parts of the movie is when Mark's brother says, "He'd always say he was gonna become a millionaire and all of us would be jealous of him. It didn't really make us envious of him. It just made me just feel kinda sorry for him, pity him, that he felt that way. Honestly, I thought he was gonna grow up to be a stalker or serial killer or do something where he would try to plan someone's death. And, unfortunately, sometimes I had the idea that it might be mine."
²There are so many quotable moments, so many times where Mark doesn't even realize he's philosophizing, like when he says, “I was called to the bathroom at the cemetery to take care of something. I walked in the bathroom, and in the middle toilet right there... somebody didn't shit in the toilet, somebody shat on the toilet. They shat on the wall, they shat on the floor. I had to clean it up, man, but before that, for about 10 to 15 seconds man, I just stared at somebody's shit, man. To be totally honest with you, man, it was a really, really profound moment. Cuz I was thinkin', "I'm 30 years old, and in about 10 seconds I gotta start cleaning up somebody's shit, man."
³Okay, last one, the line that made me laugh the most: “There's no excuses, Paul. No one has ever, ever paid admission to see an excuse. No one has ever faced a black screen that says, 'Well, if we had these set of circumstances, we would've shot this scene, so please forgive us and use your imagination.' I've been to the movies hundreds of times. That's never occurred.”
The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982)
The town sheriff and a madame team up to stop a television consumer advocate from shutting down the local whorehouse, the famed Chicken Ranch.
Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton flirtin', kissin', and lovin' all up on each other. It was everything I hoped for and more.
Gimme a little Jim Nabors (in one of his few film roles, and a rare time he isn't playing "Gomer Pyle" or "Himself"), gimme a little singin' and dancin' (the two best songs in the movie are the two that aren't in the original stage show - Dolly wrote "Sneakin’ Around" for the film and reworked her original "I Will Always Love You") and gimme a little action at the Chicken Ranch, and I do not possible know what more you could ask for.
Well, I really just wasn't crazy about the Dom DeLuise character. I know he had done a few movies with Burt (which usually meant you would do more movies with Burt), but I found him a tad grating. Fortunately, every other inch of film is graced with Burt and Dolly flirtin', kissin', and lovin', and that's plenty for me.
One False Move (1992)
Following a series of drug deals and murders, three criminals – Fantasia, Ray Malcolm and Pluto – travel from Los Angeles to Houston, finally arriving in a small Arkansas town to go into hiding. Two detectives from the LAPD, who are already on the case, contact the town’s sheriff, Dale Dixon, to alert him of the fugitives’ presence in the area. Underestimating Dixon, the criminals have no idea what they are about to face.
section: new releases
Despite coming out in 1992, I picked this one up from the video store's New Releases section - thanks to the new 4K restoration from Criterion.
This is not one of those times when Criterion releases an "obvious" film like Citizen Kane, Godzilla, 12 Angry Men, Raging Bull, or Parasite. This is one of those times when they say, "Hey, remember that movie we all liked in the '90s, the one that Roger Ebert said he would put on a 'very short list of great movies about violent criminals' like In Cold Blood (Criterion release) and Badlands (Criterion release)? Well, we remember it and we also think it deserves a place among the rest."
I don't know if I would go that far, but I am grateful for the restoration and the introduction to the film. We all know what Bill Paxton can do and this was early-career Billy Bob (who also co-wrote the screenplay), but I think I'm most interested in those we don't still hear about as often: Cynda Williams, Michael Beach, Natalie Canerday, and even, to some degree, director Carl Franklin. They also recently released his follow-up feature Devil in a Blue Dress in 4K and if this is any indication, I'll have to pick that one up soon.
Credit: Each plot synopsis from Letterboxd via TMDb.
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