Sex and death. Sex and death. Hey, that’s what life is all about, isn’t it? Well, having taken another trip through the aisles of the video store, I’ve determined that life is not about just sex and death. To my surprise, there was a third, previously unknown element in the grand aspect of existence: education. Yup, that’s right, life’s all about sex, death, and education. Usually in that order, too. Oh, and foreign languages, too — which can really make the whole “education” thing that much sexier under the right circumstances. In fact, a sexy education with a tutor bearing a foreign tongue might even lead to death — in a positively Shakespearean sense. Either way, I’m just rambling on here, so let’s get onto the movies, shall we?
The Ghost Writer (2010) (Summit Entertainment) – Despite any ill feelings you may hold towards him and his sordid personal life of the past, Roman Polanski still possesses the ability to enthrall you with his storytelling abilities. Case in point: The Ghost Writer, a well-made tale of mystery and political conspiracy starring Ewan McGregor and Pierce Brosnan. As a man with no name, McGregor’s character is hired by former British Prime Minister Adam Lang (played by former 007 Brosnan) to pen the ex-politician’s memoirs. Holed up in Lang’s American beach home, the writer is quickly submerged in a house full of deadly secrets and tension. Olivia Williams, Tom Wilkinson, Kim Cattrall, James Belushi, Timothy Hutton, and Eli Wallach (who surprises many by proving he is, in fact, still alive!). Also available in a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack.
The Lottery (2010) (Great Curve Films) – Now just hold on a minute: before you start groaning and skipping to the next title, this isn’t just another documentary about charter schools. Sure, the very idea of sitting through such a film is enough to warrant flashbacks of your own nightmarish educational background (where applicable), but, in the case of The Lottery, this tale of four Harlem-based families who enter a contest to see who can win a free ride through one of the best schools in New York (yes, such places exist — so I’m told) gives the viewer a chance to see the various kinds of bureaucratic hell the members of charter schools go through. Definitely worth a look.
The Thorn In The Heart (L’Épine Dans Le Coeur) (2009) (Oscilloscope Laboratories) – Yup, another documentary, folks. And a French one at that! From Michel Gondry, the director of Be Kind Rewind, the upcoming adaptation of The Green Hornet, and numerous music videos, comes this tribute to his own auntie Suzette Gondry, a retired rural schoolteacher from France. The film will no doubt appeal to some (especially those of you who enjoy, say, The Lottery), while others may find this to be a pretentious and/or ambitious homage to somebody else’s family members. Personally, I fell asleep through it — but then, one can only drink so many Skinny Bitches before any French documentary about a schoolteacher becomes tiresome.
Terribly Happy (Frygtelig Lykkelig) (2008) (Oscilloscope Laboratories) – Based on actual events, the Danish offering Terribly Happy is reminiscent of a Coen Brothers tale (I know everyone’s been saying that, but it’s true, dammit!) : a thrilling black comedy full of odd characters and underlying suspense. Following a really bad judgment call, Copenhagen police officer Robert Hansen (Jakob Cedergren) who suffers a mental breakdown and is reassigned to the rural farm town of Skarrlid. There, Hansen finds himself as the proverbial unwanted outsider, clashing with a promiscuous married woman (Lena Maria Christensen), her abusive drunkard husband (Kim Bodina), and a shitload of buried secrets that the townspeople are more than content to kill over in order to keep from surfacing.
I Do & I Don’t (2007) (Phase 4 Films) – And, finally, we move onto the subject of holy matrimony. Or rather, unholy matrimony, as the poor damned souls in I Do & I Don’t might find it to be. The story here finds a happily engaged couple, Bob and Cheryl (Bryan Callen and Alexie Gilmore, respectively) who are forced to go through a nightmarish marriage counseling session on behalf of Cheryl’s church when they discover Bob isn’t Catholic. Enter Dick (Matt Servitto) and Nora (Jane Lynch, who’s good in anything), a dysfunctional married couple with whom the bride and groom-to-be are paired up with in order to learn just how big a relationship can fail. It’s a comedy, by the way, just in case you didn’t get that.
Finding Bliss (2009) (Phase 4 Films) – Our last entry for this chapter of Catching Up At The Video Store is, like the former title, a comedy about relationships. Well, kind of. We begin with a hopeful 25-year-old film school grad (Leelee Sobieski, aka Helen Hunt, Jr.) who lands an oh-so-envious gig editing porn flicks for a notorious adult movie director (The Vampire Diaries’ Matt Davis). Despite this momentary setback in her filmmaking career, our heroine figures that fame and fortune are still within reach — and plans to make her own film during the studio’s off hours. And, like anyone that’s ever worked on a porn set knows, romance can pop up in the most unlikely of places. Denise Richards co-stars, along with comedian Jamie Kennedy as porn celeb Dick Harder (!).
Happy viewing, kids!