If this were Paris (though it is not), chances are you'd be on vacation now (which you are not). The City of Light shuts down in August and heads out on vacation. Same thing for the American DVD industry. So this week let's play a little bit of catch-up:
AREA MAN MAKES GOOD: People I Know (Buena Vista, $19.99), a movie that you probably do not know (Miramax dumped it in 2003), stars Al Pacino and Tea Leoni in an underrated, sort-of Death of a Publicist. "Underrated," that is, if you are a genuine lover of Flagrant Grade A Pacino Ham. (And I am.) The story is a downward spiral about a downward spiral: Pacino plays Eli Wurman, a celebrity flack who spends a day and a night shepherding a drugged-out film starlet (Leoni) through Manhattan while simultaneously trying to arrange a benefit for jailed Nigerians. It's as loopy and over the top as that sounds; it's also a lot of trashy fun. The last shot is of Pacino slumped in a chair while Regis Philbin delivers him hosannas.
People I Know is not played for laughs, but like all great camp, for heartfelt sentimentality. In this case, the death of old-fashioned show business loyalty is mourned before we can even ask: Was there ever such a thing? That said, here's a great Easter egg: Be sure to watch for the hired entertainment at the political benefit that Pacino organizes. Performing is none other than Toledo's master jazz singer Jon Hendricks. The nice touch is he doesn't just appear: Pacino spends a decent chunk of the film screaming into his cell phone, "Get me Jon Hendricks!"
LOCAL BOYS MAKE GOOD:
Gone With the Wind?
Lawrence of Arabia?
The complete oeuvre of Akira Kurosawa and Ingmar Bergman?
Couple of losers.
Now Vice City. That's a movie.
In a way.
Vice City was one year in the making, and never went remotely over budget, and stars a cast of virtually tens of people. Vice City tells a crime story that spans generations, opening in the 1950s and wrapping in the 1980s. Vice City is set in Miami.
Vice City was also shot in Maumee - for $300, on videotape.
Not even digital video.
Co-creators Josh Goatley and Jeremy Brenner - both 20, childhood friends, and graduates of Maumee High School - started with a 20-minute short. But Goatley wants to be a studio director someday; he needed a film to add to his portfolio. And so they just kept going, scouting locations around Maumee that could double for Miami and buying leisure suits. Before they knew it, they were producing "an epic."
As Goatley explained, the resulting movie contains "car chases, shoot-outs, romance, comedy, drama, you name it. Pretty much every kind of thing. My favorite director is Michael Bay [of Armageddon and Bad Boys fame]. He's a visual director, and my film is visual more than anything else."
You probably missed the premiere of Vice City last weekend at the Maumee Indoor Theater. It was an invitation-only affair, with Goatley and Brenner running the film not through a projector but off their Xbox. ("Nobody knew that, though.")
However, if you still want to see what your fellow northwest Ohioans have been doing beneath your noses, Vice City (no relation to the blockbuster Miami-based video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City) will be available through the mail: Send a stamped, addressed envelope and $12 to Josh Goatley, 520 West Dudley St., Maumee, Ohio 43537. He expects DVD copies to be ready in two weeks.
PLAYING TO THE NOT-SO-CHEAP SEATS: Until Adam Sandler made Punch Drunk Love a couple of years back, no major mainstream screwball comic (particularly at the peak of his popularity) had confounded his adoring public the way Steve Martin did. Chances are you think of his 1981 box-office disaster Pennies from Heaven (Warner, $19.97) as a blip in what became a blip-heavy career. And yet if you have seen this film, about a traveling Depression-era sheet music salesman who escapes into pop songs of the period, you definitely haven't forgotten it. Director Herbert Ross recasts the glorious artificiality of the big-screen musicals of the 1930s with a dark, unsettling aura of desperation. With assistance from the breathtaking cinematography of Gordon Willis, Martin and Bernadette Peters (who's never been better on film than she is here) appear to slide from the melancholy night scenes of Edward Hopper into the dustbowl photography of Walker Evans. Quite literally - they escape into art itself. The disc contains a smart appreciation by New York magazine film critic Peter Rainer.
RAPPER'S DELIGHT: There's a reason rock and roll films generally stink - and why there are even fewer memorable hip-hop movies. Most pop carries an unwritten sell-by date, and most pop music movies want to capitalize on a sound when it's vital. So art comes second. That's why our best pop movies (with a few big exceptions, like A Hard Day's Night and 8 Mile) are almost inevitably nostalgic. Or at least, years later, that's how they feel. They become time capsules.
Exhibit A: The Show (Columbia, $24.98), a 1995 documentary (available for the first time on DVD) that half the time becomes an oral history of rap and the other half wants to make a case for the live performances of mid-'90s acts like Warren G and the Wu-Tang Clan. This is Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg at their peak; Sean Combs was still pre-Puff, pre-P. Diddy even; Biggie Smalls was alive (his mush-mouth voice is terrific here); while pioneers like Afrika Bambaata and Whodini hold long, funny kibitzing sessions where they complain that these new guys aren't worth the vinyl they're recorded on (if rappers still recorded on vinyl, that is).
The film is disorganized, but there are fantastic concert clips, and the perceptive sense that rap had long since become a business. No surprise, then, that Russell Simmons, the rap mogul (and The Show's co-producer), seems to be the most engaging and up-front guy here. "I don't need drama in my life," Simmons says. "The only drama I want is this Naomi Campbell."
TERMS OF ENDEARMENT: All bad movies about families are bad in the same way. But all good movies about families are good in their own ways. Israeli director Nir Bergman's Broken Wings (Columbia, $29.95) is a family tragedy that makes almost no reference to the turmoil in that part of the world and finds none of its power in the usual melodramatic ways; when life hits hard, the film says, tragedy transcends politics. And disaster strikes the Ullmans repeatedly. They lose their patriarch. Another member slips into a coma. The oldest daughter cuts her singing career short to care for her brothers and sisters. What makes Bergman's film more than simply bleak is its careful, poignant observations of the invisible ways people keep plugging along. It's a tender, recognizable story for people who feel at the end of their tether. The mother makes a video for a singles service. Explain yourself, she's told.
"I am 43 years old and I have four children."
"Say you're 39 instead."
"Alright," she starts again and blurts, "I have 39 children."
Contact Christopher Borrelli at: firstname.lastname@example.org