Snow, freezing rain, mud, soggy boots, bitter temperatures and gray skies: Welcome to winter in Champaign–Urbana.
It’s true that this year we’ve enjoyed some uncharacteristic meteorological reprieves. (And with the mercury expected to hit the mid-40s on Christmas day, we probably have a few more in store.) But when the wind chill sweeps off the prairie at 15 degrees it’s officially time to consider protective measures. Short of hibernating, lying on the couch under a blanket with a large stack of DVDs is your best bet. If you have some good entertainment options (and a lackey to bring you your flicks), you may not have to leave the house until spring.
Read on for some DVD winter winners, guaranteed to keep your mind away from the ice age brewing outside your windows.
Getting Real: Who the #$&% is Jackson Pollock?
You’ll have to get past the title and the narrator’s cheesy voice, but it’s worth the struggle: This is one of the most entertaining documentaries in years. The cameras follow Terry, a short, sprite, foul-mouthed trucker from the Ozarks who purchases a purported Jackson Pollock in a thrift store, and she descends into the art world to try to prove her painting is real. Descends is the right word too. Terry and her friends, getting drunk in an Ohio VFW, seem positively saintly compared to the art establishment, whose main motivation appears to be maintaining a culture of elitism even at the expense of looking like certifiable idiots. As the title should suggest, this isn’t your PBS-style, information-heavy documentary — which is good for you, wrapped in a blanket and munching popcorn. With all its funny characters, Who the #$&% is Jackson Pollock? is kind of like an Errol Morris film, but with a better plot.
Double Feature of Films by Self-Obsessed Masters: 8½ and Stardust Memories
I’ll admit that this pairing may get your brain working a little harder than you’d like, but on the flip side, if the left side of your brain starts aching just sit back and soak up the luscious black-and-white cinematography that saturates every frame of these two films (a certain right-brain treat). Start with Fellini’s masterpiece, 8½, and keep in mind that the key to watching Fellini (pictured above) is to imagine you’re at the circus. When you go to the circus, you don’t ask for a plot that connects the strong man with the lion tamers with midgets in the clown car. No, you understand that you’re watching a series of wonderful spectacles. Don’t get me wrong, 8½ is connected thematically and has a story about an aging movie director in the midst of a creative crisis, but you can appreciate Fellini much more by taking delight in the performances of his over-the-top cast of characters as much as he obviously did.
Stardust Memories is like sweet tiramisu after the incredibly rich meal that was 8½. Made in 1980, Stardust Memories is Woody Allen at his best. He manages to be hilarious, philosophical and human at the same time. The film plays like a perfect mixture of Fellini’s European art aesthetic and Allen’s goofball anti-pretentiousness. It’s as self-referential as 8½ — it’s about a comic film director (played by Allen) who wants to make more serious work — and has just as many bizarre dream sequences as 8½ (but with a whole lot more laughs).
Guilty Pleasure Movie Night: Blood In Blood Out
If there was ever a movie that could combine the production value and epic sweep of The Godfather with B-movie acting and a good dose of melodrama, then it has to be 1993’s Blood In Blood Out. The story follows three brothers from East L.A. as they go from young gang members to: a). an undercover DEA officer; b). a drug-addicted artist; and c). the head of a powerful Chicano prison gang. It’s amazing to see a cast of fine actors (Benjamin Bratt, Billy Bob Thorton, Delroy Lindo, Ving Rhames) mix it up with Damien Chapa, a dramatic actor of Jessica Simpson quality whose presence manages to cheapen this cinematic enterprise. But somehow, this cheapening serves as a great boon to the film. Blood In Blood Out (also called Bound by Honor) would never have been a masterpiece, with or without Chapa. But it’s Chapa — as he plays Miklo, the very Anglo-looking half-Mexican who becomes the head of a Mexican prison gang — who makes this film the over-the-top pleasure it is to watch. And Chapa’s Miklo is also a hit when imitated at parties.