Tag Archives: Netflix

What’s On Your DVD Shelf?

Media formats, much like M*A*S*H’s Col. Flagg, come and go like the wind. From nitrate film to laser disc to video tape, Betamax to VHS, DVD to Blu-Ray to an iTunes purchase floating in the cloud of bits and bytes to … a chip implanted under the skin of your neck on the day of your birth, or whatever’s next. And with each change, cinema wonks have had to search their souls and decide: are any of the films I liked enough to purchase in a now-outdated format worth buying all over again in a new format?

mod dvd spinesThe DVD format still has many charms for me. Since my movie memories include the age of VHS, DVDs combine the best of that experience (the joy of being able to to watch your chosen flick whenever you like) minus the hassles (no room for much except one feature film, plus the likelihood of your player going haywire and chewing up your media). And as hopelessly hooked as I am on Netflix on-demand, they’re stingy with the “making-of”s and other extras that can add so much to the pleasure of a film that intrigues you.

So here are the contents of my DVD shelf, and what the future holds for each of them, in three categories:

Must-haves: I want to have a copy of these in all future formats, or guaranteed access to these on-demand, in perpetuity, world without end:

  • All three Austin Powers movies: for Dr. Evil’s “meat helmet” soliloquy alone
  • Be Kind Rewind: a love letter to movies, and the renting thereof
  • Best in Show: for Fred Willard’s loopy commentary
  • The Big Lebowski: So many reasons. Partly because  Walter’s eulogy for Donnie includes the word “Pismo”. Like that rug that sets its plot in motion, it ties so many #@!!* things together.
  • Chicago: for the black humor (“Pop, six, squish … Lipschitz”) leavened with just enough real emotion (“Mr. Cellophane”)
  • Chicken Run: for the chickens drawing complex diagrams, a genuinely scary female villain, and the Great Escape references
  • Chinatown: for that great closing line. Also, because Jack Nicholson spends so much of the film bandaged up after being too nosy, and deflecting others’ expressions of either sympathy or contempt for his injury.
  • Dr. Strangelove: again, if you have to ask why, you need to see it again. (Preferably at the age of nineteen, in a midnight showing at a college student union.) See my earlier entry.
  • Election: for of the look on Matthew Broderick’s face when his character says in a voiceover, “And that’s when I knew – it was time to leave Omaha.” See my earlier entry.
  • Fargo: because once when the A/C broke at our house in July, this movie, with its endless expanses of snow, and cold-blooded murders, was the only thing that took the edge off the heat and irritation of waiting for the repairman to come.
  • Flushed Away: for those singing slugs, and for Aardman’s always-terrific way with telling a story through animation: cute and clever, but light on sentimentality.
  • Human Nature: because of Rhys Ifans’ inspired portrayal of Puff, the man raised as an ape. This movie starts with pseudo-scientific pomposity, then tears off its metaphorical clothes and bolts, gibbering, into the jungle of loopy fantasy.
  • Life of Brian: Because this movie says more about the subject of religion than you’ll hear from more serious and long-winded sources.
  • The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou: For the quirky animations that pop up unexpectedly. For Anjelica Huston and Willem Dafoe and Cate Blanchett and the gorgeous scenery. Because the first couple of times I watched it, it made me laugh really hard. And because the last couple of times I watched it, it was more like a meditation on how hard it is to pursue your passion, and make enough money, and treat other people like you should, all while getting older and trying to hunt down that shark that ate your best friend.
  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail: Because the first time I saw it, when I was not quite eighteen, at midnight in the Student Union at the University of Kansas, I looked around at the auditorium filled with people I had just met a few weeks ago: friends and fellow dorm-dwellers and classmates, and listened to them guffawing and shrieking along with The Knights Who Say “Ni!”, and thought, “These … these are my people.”
  • Moulin Rouge: Because I was already fascinated with the turn-of-the-century art world, and especially with Toulouse-Lautrec‘s work. Because I never thought of adding “Nature Boy” and “Material Girl” to that world, but combine those with a gigantic hollow elephant, and it all works.
  • O Brother, Where Art Thou? Because on the same day the husband and I saw Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in the theater, we also went to see this. One is a visually inventive story from a long-ago time, set in an exotic and unfamiliar place. And the other includes a scene in which three hoboes escape from a burning barn in the company of a pig, riding in a car driven by a child with a penchant for shooting at census-takers. And now you know which of these two films I saw fit to add to my collection.
  • Raising Arizona: On second thought, maybe I don’t actually need a copy of this one, because most of it seems to have lodged permanently in my brain. The Lone Biker of the Apocalypse … Unpainted Huffheines… it’s all part of a spree to cover the entire Southwest proper.
  • Young Frankenstein: Because Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder obviously saw the same Universal black-and-white monster movies that KTUL’s early-morning and Saturday-night programming introduced me to, but they ran it through their own cuckoo blender. Because you need something to watch on Halloween if you’re staying home to give out candy to trick-or-treaters. Blücher!

Special category:
Some DVDs will stay in my collection because they’re gifts from important people in my life. My oldest friend gave me Sixteen Candles and Fast Times at Ridgemont High for my 40th birthday. Only another Gen-Xer could understand fully why I dissolved into delighted hysterics when I opened the package. And my dear husband gave me Ghost World (the “tampon-in-a-teacup” scene could have come straight from my freshman Design I class in the fall of 1984 at KU.) And Strictly Background, the small gem directed by Jason Connell, a fellow Okie with an eye for quirk.

Not indispensable:

  •  Elf: I seem to require a new crop of Christmas movies every few years. This one’s a charmer, but I might take it out of the rotation for a couple of years.
  • Hell’s Angels: worth seeing once for the sequences aboard the zeppelin. But everything that takes place on the ground is boring. (Kudos to my dear husband for finding this one in a bargain bin. We saw The Aviator and it piqued our interest in Howard Hughes. This was years before Netflix made it easier to view less-well-known older flicks.)
  • Lilo and Stitch: Stitch’s freaky way with an LP cracked me up every time I saw a “coming attractions” that included this clip. Every cotton-pickin’ time. Still does. Otherwise, too much Disney sentiment.
  • Pink Panther: Like Raising Arizona, this one’s burned into my brain. I was fortunate enough to grow up with a devoted Inspector Clouseau fan (my dad). So I learned very young that it’s hilarious to speak mangled English with a French accent. I don’t really require this DVD to remind me.
  • Polar Express: Maybe I just need to take this one out of the holiday-movie rotation for a few years. The sweeping vistas and action sequences are still terrific. But some of the human figures look a little creepy: a little too realistic, but not quite lifelike enough.
  • Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow: The Art Deco cityscapes and robots are nifty, but the plot and dialogue are warmed-over pulp, and Gwyneth Paltrow is unappealing and seems uncomfortable as the leading lady.
  • Sweeney Todd: Tim Burton directing a musical about cannibalism? Sounded like a dream team to me. But it loses the dark charm of the original stage version with its focus on sheer gore.
  • Waiting for Guffman: The fictional town of Blaine, Missouri is worth an occasional visit, but not so vital that I have to hang onto this disk.

So, fellow wonks, what formats are you favoring these days? Which of your favorite flicks are worth buying in newer formats, and which are staying in the dustbin of cinematic history? Feel free to send me your lists, or a photo.

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Wish I Had Those Two Hours of My Life Back

All films are thieves of time*. The good ones filch roughly two irreplaceable hours of your finite time on this earth, and do it like the archetypical charming jewel thief – in a way that leaves you grateful. And the lousy ones are more like carnival barkers or pickpockets that leave you feeling cheated, disgusted, bored, or nothing at all.

Sure, if you decide partway through a film that you don’t like it, you’re always free to leave the theater, click the “Stop” button on Netflix, or take the DVD out of the player, break it over your knee, and fling the shards across the room. But once I start a movie, I’m obliged to watch it all the way through. Who knows, maybe the plot or the quality of the acting will REALLY come together in those last five minutes! If viewers won’t give a movie a fair chance by at least watching all of it, I don’t believe they have the right to gripe about it later. And griping about crummy works of art is a pleasure unto itself. (Check out some of Dorothy Parker’s scintillating reviews of subpar books and plays, if you doubt this.)

So what movies do you wish you could un-see? Below are three of mine. Hollywood, I’m sending you the bill for these six hours of my life:

  • Quantum of Solace: A bloated, joyless slog, starting with that inscrutable title. (Brings back thoughts of every concept in math and science classes that either bored me witless or made absolutely zero sense.) Maybe there’s no going back to the free-loving fun of Bonds like Sean Connery and Roger Moore. But this one isn’t even leavened with the dry, dark humor that the British excel at.
  • Vicky Cristina Barcelona: Great cast and sumptuous locations wasted on a talky script and Woody Allen’s very, very tired notions. The feeblest of these is his idea that any interaction between men and women who are potential romantic partners is automatically hilarious, no actual cleverness or originality required. Cripes, I wish Penelope Cruz’s character had shown up much earlier with that gun of hers and shot several more people, and saved us all some tedium. Fellow wonks, have you ever read wildly positive reviews of a film that left you cold, and wondered if everyone else had somehow seen a different movie with the same title? That was my experience with this film.
  • Ghost: When people gush over this one, I struggle to recall anything except way too many close-ups of Demi Moore crying with her mouth partly open. It required a visit to Rotten Tomatoes to remind me that it also included Whoopi Goldberg’s “magical Negro” character.

* with apologies to Tony Hillerman

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“Police Academy” vs. the Sea Cucumber

(or, “Flicks for when you’re not feelin’ so good”)

"Police Academy" vs. the Sea Cucumber

What movies can you recall watching while you were sick, injured, or otherwise temporarily incapacitated? Are there any favorites that you summon up on Netflix, or slide into the DVD player, when you start feeling lousy?

The title of this entry comes from an experience the Cinema Wonk had last August. My husband and I were trying a new Asian restaurant. The entree’ I chose included something called a “sea cucumber“. Less than 24 hours later, I was profoundly regretting my choice during several rather urgent trips to the bathroom. “The Revenge of the Sea Cucumber” enjoyed an exclusive run, shall we say, for about two days. About the only activity I could manage between pit stops was watching TV. And brother, I was not picky about what I viewed. I’m pretty sure I watched all of one of the “Police Academy” movies for the first time in my life. Don’t ask me which one. Even though that series of movies came out just as my cinematic diet was expanding beyond Disney and the oldies shown on TBS, somehow I’d missed seeing more than a few minutes of any of them. The one that saw me through the sea-cucumber siege included a guy being tricked into washing his hair while in the nude in view of several other people, and the guy who could imitate all kinds of sounds using only his mouth. Also Steve Guttenberg was in it. (Does this narrow it down?)

All of which made this movie a perfect fit for my gastrointestinal haze. Any critical faculties I have were not just dulled; they were reduced to the level of a kindergartener’s. And that kindergartener was not the brightest kid in her class, either.

While I’ve been writing this blog post, I’ve been trying to recall any other movies that made the perfect accompaniments to infirmity. And for a cinema wonk, it’s surprising that only two movie-related experiences come to mind. One is deciding that the only advantage to getting a sore throat was that I could sound more like Lauren Bacall for a few days. The second came during a recent mild cold, which seemed to respond to black-and-white British comedies. Dozing off while Peter Sellers and friends outsmarted Lionel Jeffries in “Two-Way Stretch“, and later Terry-Thomas and his teeth and a flock of spinsters (including the marvelously-named Elspeth Duxbury) contrived to steal any furs not nailed down in “Make Mine Mink“, proved very soothing for body aches and sinus congestion.

I guess this lack of sick-flick memories is good, because it means I haven’t had to spend very many long, difficult periods in bed. My only two really long periods of recovering – chickenpox and after having my wisdom teeth pulled – happened before the VCR Fairy visited our house. And the movie offerings on cable that were age-appropriate were pretty limited at those times. (During the wisdom-tooth convalescence, I do recall waking up during the Pat Benatar video for “Love Is A Battlefield”, and panicking because I thought this meant I had somehow ended up in the afterlife.) More recent sick days have been eased with DVDs, Netflix and a bigger range of movie options (and the freedom to watch R-rated stuff, without a parent censoring). So all those sick days run together. Except for that ferocious sea cucumber.

So, fellow wonks, what do you prescribe for the next time Dame Stomachache or Good Sir Sinus Infection comes a-callin’?

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Movie-Geeking for Dollars

In a perfect world, games based on extensive knowledge of movie trivia would be played for high stakes, like poker in Las Vegas.

Dream with me, won’t you?

Of a world where knowing the meaning of the phrase “pre-Code” gets you long-overdue rewards like fabulous accommodations, booze and food. All us cinema wonks could finally be rewarded in meaningful ways for those countless hours we’ve spent in front of movie, TV and computer screens, soaking up the kind of knowledge that in the real world will only get you a cup of coffee at Starbucks if it’s accompanied by at least $1.75.

And forget just visiting a Las-Vegas-type place to participate in these movie trivia games once in a while. Why not move to this imaginary paradise and become a professional movie trivia buff? As long as you keep your trivia knowledge sharp, it’s practically a guaranteed living. None of the stomach-churning risk of being a full-time poker player.

Think of the glitzy tournaments we pro-geeks could all compete in! Streamed live over the Internet, televised worldwide and beamed throughout the cosmos. The Super Bowl would fade in comparison. IMDb and Netflix would work themselves into a fever, begging for the privilege of sponsoring the film-wonkiest among us.

Finally a response from the rest of the world that’s more encouraging than the “Get away from that @#!! screen and go out for some fresh air!” we’ve all heard so painfully often. Every species possessed of even the most rudimentary eyeball, ear and brain would be transfixed to the point of requiring adult diapers because they couldn’t bear to miss a second of this clash of the cine-trivia titans. No matter how near-sighted and large-bottomed our film obsessions had rendered us, we’d each be enrobed in a flattering tunic completely covered with the shimmering logos of our adoring and loyal sponsors, and seated on our own (surprisingly comfortable) mountain of gold ingots.

During the competition our every utterance – to say nothing of our silences, carefully timed to heighten the audience’s already-fascinated tension to a new and deliciously unbearable height – would be hailed as both witty and wise. And when a victor finally emerged from this fantastic-bombastic brain-battle, he or she would be offered prizes such as a crown, the enthusiastic attentions of a harem-full of his or her preferred gender(s), and having the president of their choice chiseled off Mount Rushmore so that his or her countenance could be added. The also-rans would receive consolation prizes in the form of new piles of gold ingots, big enough to serve as ottomans to those ingot mountains they already have.

But when it comes down to it, we cinema trivia geeks are a humble folk with simple needs. After a decent interval of considering each of these fabulous prizes, the winner would cast down his or her eyes and shyly say, “Y’know, all I really wanna do right now is watch a movie.”

And so all of the competitors would shuffle amiably together to a venue of the victor’s choosing – be it drive-in theater, multiplex, art house or the basement of her or his childhood home – sit down in whatever posture they each find most comfortable, and, as they have so many times before, turn their gazes to the screen, and feel that familiar thrill as the lights dim and a flickering image begins to illuminate the truth.

The End

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