August is the cruelest month. It's reached that point in the summer where a movie based on boys' action figures, G.I. Joe, has recently eclipsed another movie based on boys' action figures, Transformers 2. Things will reach a nadir come Labor Day weekend, when studios traditionally dump the worst of their fare. (And be warned that the Aug. 28 weekend won't be much better than Sept. 4).
So I recommend a trip to Scarecrow or your favorite neighborhood video store about now. The balmy box office slump is a good time to catch up with several notable summer DVD releases. After the jump, we consider why Michel Gondry and other foreign filmmakers want to invade and destroy Japan....Every director loves an anthology film, at least when somebody else is paying for it. Projects like Paris, Je T'Aime make the notion seem attractive; the reality is often quite different for viewers. So it is with the three-part Tokyo! (Liberation Ent., $24.95), which also seems much beholden to Lost in Translation. Segment two, by French director Leos Carax (The Lovers on the Bridge) is terrible. Skip it. Gondry fares better in segment one, about a young woman arriving in Tokyo with her boyfriend, an aspiring filmmaker (like Lost in Translation, yes). His (insufferable) masterwork is The Garden of Degradation, while poor Hiroko can't seem to find a creative outlet. When and how she finally finds a humble use for herself provides a fairy-tale ending of sorts to the chapter. Though, as in his other solely authored projects since Eternal Sunshine of the Perfect Mind, The Science of Sleep being another example. Gondry's eccentric vision skews toward that of the eccentric male artist. Segment three comes from The Host director Bong Joon-ho, whose tale of a shut-in who falls for a pizza delivery girl eventually gets lost its philosophical-agoraphobic regress. Though its early scenes, featuring YosiYosi Arakawa as the hermit who won't leave his apartment, are a marvel of close, claustrophobic insanity.
For those who can't get enough of Curb Your Enthusiasm, an enjoyable hour-long footnote is Young and Handsome: A Night With Jeff Garlin (Shout! Factory, $14.99), which is basically an hour of his genial stand-up comedy routine. At 47, the guy is admirably frank about his middle-aged concerns: not getting fat(ter), not provoking his wife, the pleasures shopping at Costco, the alluring freedom of Krispy Kreme. Garlin is like a cross between Jerry Seinfeld and John Goodman, the familiar dad in jeans and white running shoes, who understands how time has passed--and what it's done to him. He's at the age, he tells us, when his wife makes New Year's resolutions for him to lose weight. He's at the age, he says, when going on a coke-and-wine bender is less attractive than the two-day-old sheetcake lying in the refrigerator from his kid's birthday party.
An English TV show that seems sure to be remade on American television is The IT Crowd, whose second season is out now (MPI Home Video, $24.98) and third season arrives Sept. 15. (If you have cable, you can also catch it on IFC.) Though knowing nothing about computers, an insecure middle-management woman (the delightful Katharine Parkinson) is put in charge of two nerds who dwell in the basement of her ill-run corporation. They could all be fired at any second; so they have no choice but to form a fractious team. Produced by one of creative hands behind The Office, The IT Crowd is more of a straightforward sitcom, without the documentary/direct-address format. But unlike our American format, the Brits embrace more anarchy and cursing, more risque situations, and give their characters far, far less dignity. Everyone must be humiliated, as when the IT manager's high-tech new bra (designed by her two underlings) malfunctions during an important board meeting. "My tits are on fire!" she exclaims while jumping around the room. For the American remake, I'd like to see Lisa Kudrow in charge of Steve Zahn and Kal Penn.
The fifth season of Entourage (HBO Home Ent., $39.98) is betraying the series' age. "You're living in a post-Medellín world," Ari tells Vince after the Pablo Escobar biopic debacle. The recession has caught up to the bromance, in other words. Watching the career of Vince (Adrian Grenier) bottom out becomes an exercise in waiting for cameos (hello, Eric Roberts, Jeffrey Tambor, Jason Patric, Gus Van Sant, and Martin Scorsese). Even Jeremy Piven seems a little tired of the proceedings (though he's the only cast member who reliably secures feature work during the show's hiatus). Instead of season six? Let's just skip to the movie treatment of the series; send it out with a bang. How 'bout the mock documentary The Making of Medellín?
Also suffering a certain career fatigue are Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie, who just announced they're taking a year off after wrapping a concert tour and season two of Flight of the Conchords (HBO Home Ent., $29.98). Is it over for our two Kiwis? Are they, like Ricky Gervais, walking away at the peak of their show's success? The sitcom forces certain sameness on the duo, who've been together, let's remember, for over a decade. (The HBO series is based on a prior BBC radio version.) The droll jokes are still there, underplayed at the level of your hardwood floor, and each episode leads up to a musical number or two (often in the style of reimagined musicals, like West Side Story, or vintage '80s MTV videos). All very funny, but maybe it's time to step up to feature-length. Michel Gondry (see above) directed one episode this season, and his lo-fi, handcrafted sensibility seems to mesh. Already Bret and Jemaine have apparently wrapped on a horror/musical spoof (Diagnosis: Death, yet to be released). Perhaps they'll use their year off to write some kind of a band-on-the-road movie. Every generation ought to have its own Spinal Tap. They could be ours.