In Eastbound and Down, Danny McBride is former Major League pitcher Kenny Powers, a washed-up superstar who bought in to the hype and is now despised by who are, simply put, sick of his crap. Blissfully free of self-awareness, Powers doesn’t let the crash and burn of his career put a dent in his raging ego. “That is why I am better than everyone else in the world,” is his mantra, even as he moves in to his brother’s middle-class home and takes a job as a junior high school gym teacher in his home town. Not the best career choice for an arrogant jerk with anger management issues. Created for HBO by McBride with Ben Best and Jody Hill and co-produced by Will Ferrell (who co-stars in two episodes) and Adam McKay (who also directs a couple of episodes), this is a cable series created with the same collaborative spirit and improvisational approach of Will Ferrell’s movies, and it’s funnier and sharper than Ferrell’s last couple of pictures. Note that David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express) directs three episodes as well. The limited series numbers only six half-hour episodes, but they make for a pretty tight story that even allows Powers to grow up a little. But not much. Also features deleted scenes (the extended “Stevie’s Dark Secret,” which apparently was too much even for HBO, is so perverse that it’s given its own supplement), commentary and a 12-minute featurette that offers the best description I’ve heard of the show: “It’s like if Dennis Hopper shot The Natural.”
Hal Ashby’s 1982 gambling comedy Lookin’ to Get Out, directed from a script co-written by star Jon Voight, was a critical and commercial flop on its original release. Seen today, in a longer cut than was originally released (Voight was pressured to edit it down by 15 minutes by the studio), it looks better, if not quite great. Voight is Alex, a hopeless gambling addict with unflagging optimism in his own abilities who sets off to Vegas with his schlub of a best friend Jerry (Burt Young) for a “big score” to settle a gambling debt. Alex is flamboyant, effusive, a perpetual motion hustler racing with out-of-control momentum. Jerry is constantly worried and unceasingly loyal, but at root he’s a good-hearted romantic who takes everyone at their word until they prove their word isn’t worth anything. The plot is a completely unconvincing series of coincidences but the dynamism of the characters and their friendships is marvelous. Voight and Young are like kids when they get excited, immature but utterly devoted to one another, and Young delivers the defining line with such unforced conviction that it won me over completely: “I don’t want your money. Alex, he does. I can’t help that, but he’s my friend and you take the good with the bad. Ann-Margret is touching as a woman from Voight’s past whose romantic idealism is tempered by her growing realization that her old lover is completely unsuitable as a father to her daughter. Ashby’s indulgence allows the film get lost in comic chases and brawls (not to mention the crazy plot involving mistaken identity and a washed up gambler played by Bert Remsen) but he always returns to the characters, who are the real story of the film. You can tell what footage has been restored by the speckling on the film (it appears to be from a workprint, but the wear is minor and the footage is otherwise sharp and has strong color) and it’s all character stuff, the very thing that makes the film work. But, lordy, is that eighties synthesizer score painful.
I wrote about Do the Right Thing for my blog here. Universal has a new edition featuring most of the supplements from the previous Criterion edition, and ups the ante with new supplements and a Blu-ray edition. New to this edition are the documentary “Do the Right Thing: 20 Years Later,” with new interviews with the cast and crew (conducted by Spike himself) and footage of Spike and his collaborators at a recent audience Q&A, and a new commentary track by Spike. They accompany St. Clair Bourne’s sharp 1989 documentary Making Do The Right Thing, which was shot on the set of the film. The scuffle between Spike and Danny Aeillo over interpretations of Italian pizza place owner offers a microcosm of Lee’s strengths as a director: however the director interprets the drama, every character gets his voice. Also features previously recorded commentary by director Spike Lee, cinematographer Ernest Dickerson, production designer Wynn Thomas and actress Joie Lee, 11 deleted/alternate scenes and other interviews and archival goodies among the supplements.
Among the new releases this week is James Gray’s discomforting, beautifully directed romantic drama Two Lovers and the offbeat anthology film Tokyo!, a trilogy directed by Michel Gondry, Leos Carax and Bong Joon-ho. And Troma honcho and grunge-movie auteur Lloyd Kaufman offers up Direct Your Own Damn Movie!, a four-disc set of practical tips from working directors and producers. A two-hour documentary featuring new interviews with Eli Roth, William Lustig, Stuart Gordon, Mick Garris, Ernest Dickerson, Penelope Spheeris, Whit Stillman, Monte Hellman and Joe Dante (among many others) is the foundation of the set. The rest is filled in bonus interviews and featurettes. It’s a survey in bits and pieces, but Kaufman is all about practical lessons and examples from experience in a presentation spiced up with humor.
For the rest of the highlights (including the New Release Dark Streets and Hideo Nakata’s Kaidan), visit my weekly column, which goes live every Tuesday on MSN Entertainment, or go directly to the various pages dedicated to New Releases, Special Releases, TV and Blu-ray.