Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The View From Home 11: New releases on DVD

By John Thomason

Greenberg‭ (‬Universal‭)
Release date:‭ ‬July‭ ‬13
Standard list price:‭ ‬$18.49

If I were Roger Greenberg‭ – ‬the literate,‭ ‬perpetually disgruntled protagonist in Noah Baumbach’s‭ ‬Greenberg‭ – ‬I would definitely be hand-writing a letter to Universal right about now that would go something like this:

Dear Universal Home Entertainment,‭ Eager to discover more about the motion picture featuring myself,‭ ‬I recently purchased your newly released digital video disc of‭ ‬Greenberg.‭ ‬But upon accessing the supplemental materials on the disc,‭ ‬I soon learned that the so-called‭ “‬special‭” ‬features were not special at all.‭ ‬Your DVD misleadingly advertises three featurettes on the back of its snap-case,‭ ‬withholding the vital information that the featurettes in question barely total two minutes each‭ – ‬and most of those miniscule durations are taken up by recycled clips from the film.‭ ‬Shame on you,‭ ‬Universal,‭ ‬for squandering an opportunity to provide in-depth analysis of this Criterion-worthy film in favor of lazily repackaging promotional fluff in the guise of three bonus features.‭ ‬Barring a dramatic change in your DVD production line,‭ ‬this will be the last Universal title I add to my collection‭!


Roger Greenberg

But I’m not Roger Greenberg.‭ ‬Suffice it to say that the bonus features on Universal’s‭ ‬Greenberg disc are indeed pithy,‭ ‬generic and worthless,‭ ‬but the movie is worth owning no matter how bare-bones the DVD.

As the film’s irascible anti-hero,‭ ‬Greenberg‭ (‬Ben Stiller‭) ‬always has something worth complaining about,‭ ‬from the proliferation of horn honks in Manhattan to the leg‭ ‬room of his airplane seat,‭ ‬to the bland music piped through Starbucks‭’ ‬speakers.‭ ‬Rather than let life’s little annoyances go,‭ ‬as most of us would,‭ ‬Greenberg writes letters to every person or company that has wronged him.‭

Like many characters portrayed by Larry David and Woody Allen before him,‭ ‬Greenberg is a privileged New York nebbish who may often be doing the right thing in principle,‭ ‬but his form and presentation are way off-base.‭ ‬As with Jeff Daniels‭’ ‬pompous professor in Baumbach’s previous success‭ ‬The Squid and the Whale,‭ ‬I found myself agreeing with most of Greenberg’s observations while disparaging his woeful,‭ ‬elitist negativism.‭ ‬Walking a thin tightrope between enviably intelligent and disturbingly tactless,‭ ‬he’s a three-dimensional character more complex than those who dismiss him as simply an unlikable misanthrope,‭ ‬and Baumbach and Stiller deserve enormous credit for crafting this fascinating dichotomy.

When we’re introduced to Greenberg,‭ ‬he’s in a state of deliberate stasis.‭ ‬A former musician from a band he personally dissolved at the apex of its commercial breakthrough,‭ ‬Greeberg has just been released from a mental institution‭ (‬his condition is never revealed,‭ ‬but depression,‭ ‬bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder are top candidates,‭ ‬not to mention crippling anhedonia‭)‬,‭ ‬and he’s about to turn‭ ‬41.‭ ‬Rather‭ ‬than‭ ‬confront aging with existentialist soul-searching‭ (‬as Allen has done‭)‬,‭ ‬Greenberg is postponing adulthood,‭ ‬maturity and the normalcy of midlife by‭ “‬trying to do nothing for a while.‭” ‬The opportunity to housesit in Los Angeles during his wealthy brother’s vacation in Vietnam provides Greenberg the chance to do just that.

Between meeting old friends from the band,‭ ‬building a doghouse for his brother’s pooch and,‭ ‬of course,‭ ‬mailing complaint letters,‭ ‬Greenberg begins to stumble through a relationship with his brother’s personal assistant Florence‭ (‬mumblecore queen Greta Gerwig in a star-making turn‭)‬,‭ ‬a beacon of life-changing joy next to Greenberg’s inherent dourness.

Equal turns authentically dramatic and wryly comic‭ (‬To a guest at a party,‭ ‬Greenberg describes his life as‭ “‬Middling‭ – ‬Leonard Maltin would give me two-and-a-half stars‭”)‬,‭ ‬Greenberg is both an untraditional romantic comedy and an intimate homage to character-driven‭ ’‬70s cinema whose depth and insights are large as its potential audience is small.‭ ‬Here’s hoping it has a strong cult afterlife.

The Most Dangerous Man in America:‭ ‬Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers
‭ (‬First Run Features‭)
Release date:‭ ‬July‭ ‬20
SLP:‭ ‬$20.99

You know Daniel Ellsberg as the policy wonk who worked under Robert McNamara in the lead-up to the Vietnam War and later released the Pentagon Papers,‭ ‬a‭ ‬7,000-page secret history of the war,‭ ‬to the media and the‭ ‬U.S.‭ ‬Congress,‭ ‬risking imprisonment to discredit a dishonest war machine.‭ ‬This documentary by Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith profiles Ellsberg before,‭ ‬during and after his pivotal security breach,‭ ‬focusing especially on his transformations from hawkish employee of the Defense Department to outspoken leftist gallivanting with anti-war radicals such as Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn.‭ ‬It’s obvious where Ehrlich and Goldsmith stand in this interesting but hagiographic portrait‭ – ‬Ellsberg himself narrates about half the movie,‭ ‬and an advertisement for his website and blog are included in the bonus features.‭ ‬Still,‭ ‬the history contained in the film is especially relevant to our extreme political climate,‭ ‬when those who don’t subscribe to one party’s dogma are ostracized as traitors by the other side and when the media are more content to cover fluffy non-stories than speak truth to power.‭ ‬The Most Dangerous Man in America is a reminder that dissent is patriotic‭ – ‬and that the media’s job is to question government,‭ ‬not echo its talking points.

Barking Dogs Never Bite‭ (‬Magnolia‭)
Release date:‭ ‬July‭ ‬20
SLP:‭ ‬$24.49

The first feature by popular South Korean auteur Bong Joon-ho contains none of the delightfully schlocky self-consciousness of his B-movie throwback‭ ‬The Host,‭ ‬nor any of the psychological complexity of his recent‭ ‬The Mother.‭ ‬Instead,‭ ‬this overambitious genre mash-up meanders into thematic and aesthetic oblivion,‭ ‬and it takes a trying‭ ‬110‭ ‬minutes to do so.‭ ‬Barking Dogs Never Bite is essentially about an unlikable,‭ ‬part-time college lecturer whose murder of a yapping dog in his apartment complex leads to a series of canine-related calamities and threatens his plans to become a fully paid professor.‭ ‬There’s also some overwrought nonsense about a dog-eating basement dweller,‭ ‬a haunted boiler room and a pet-loving bookkeeper who longs to thwart a high-profile criminal and thus make it on public television.‭ ‬The film is every bit as disjointed as it sounds.‭ ‬Barking Dogs Never Bite is also available in Magnolia’s three-disc Bong Joon-ho Collection‭ (‬SLP‭ ‬$46.49‭)‬,‭ ‬packaged alongside‭ ‬The Host and‭ ‬The Mother.

Mystery Science Theater‭ ‬3000:‭ ‬Vol.‭ ‬XVIII‭ (‬Shout‭! ‬Factory‭)
Release date:‭ ‬July‭ ‬13‭
SLP:‭ ‬$39.49

‬The latest installment in the never-ending quartets of‭ ‬Mystery Science Theater episodes features four new ones to DVD.‭ ‬The box set includes the Season Two entry‭ ‬Lost Continent,‭ ‬a schlocky adventure picture about a group of scientists who land on a continent populated by dinosaurs‭; ‬Season Four’s‭ ‬Crash of the Moons,‭ ‬a hilariously nonsensical sci-fi yarn‭; ‬Season Six’s‭ ‬The Beast of Yucca Flats,‭ ‬a silly scientist-turned-beast monster movie whose episode is perhaps more notable for the preceding short‭ ‬Money Talks,‭ ‬about a kid who gains financial advice from a poorly bewigged Benjamin Franklin‭; ‬and‭ ‬Jack Frost,‭ ‬an antique Russian Cinderella story whose title character doesn’t even appear until the end of the film.‭ ‬Special features include new introductions by MST3K cast members Frank Conniff and Kevin Murphy and a‭ “‬Look Back at‭ ‬The Beast of Yucca Flats.‭” ‬Sounds like hours of varied,‭ ‬sardonic fun from the world’s best riffers.

Editor’s note: This story has been edited after posting to correct a factual error and incorrect image.

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