84 charing cross road

I saw the most amazing movie last night, called 84 Charing Cross Road.  I’ve had it sitting at my home for two months now from Netflix, and I just barely got around to watching it.  Really good stuff.  It’s about a lady who lives in New York that is looking for some rare, secondhand books, and she can’t find them anywhere locally.  So, she sends a letter to a small bookstore in London, England, who is able to find them for her quite easily.  As a result, she sends more letters asking for more books, and she and the proprietor of the store start to develop a friendly relationship lasting years.

It sounds incredibly boring, I’m sure, but this kind of story is right up my alley.  I love slow-moving character dramas.  Plus, I could relate well with the elation of finding something out of print, and making friends with someone who shares the same interests.  Great stuff.

I would have given it 5 stars on Netflix, but it kind of loses steam towards the end (with as much steam as it hard to start with), or maybe it was because I kept having to get up for the second half because of my cough.  Still, a great find, and I’ll be buying it first chance I get.

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first annual netflix movie rental roundup

I have had a Netflix account for a year and a week now. My brother suggested it to me, and got me a free trial, which started all the madness so long ago. I’ve been much too busy lately to watch any movies, but I have still seen my fair share this year. So, as a summary for the year, here’s the stats of pretty much everything.

Current plan: 1 a month (unlimited)

# of times I changed my plan: 8

# DVDs at home: 4

# of movies in my queue: 500, the max limit

# of movies I’ve rated: 1,543

# recommendations: 9

# of movies I’ve rented: 118

# of 5-star ratings (from rentals): 3

# of 4-star ratings (from rentals): 7

# of movies I’ve bought on DVD (because of rentals): 7

The ratios of high-rating or even buying the movie to renting is really low. But of those that I have bought, three of them (Oliver Twist, The Escape Artist, Rabbit-Proof Fence) are so good, that it was well worth the pain of every other crappy movie I’ve sat through. In fact, that’s why I’m sticking through it. I’m looking for the next 5% that are worth buying. :)

jack and the beanstalk

I watched Jack and the Beanstalk last night.  It was a great flick.  I haven’t seen the movie in at least twenty years, but I remembered it so vividly, and it was really creepy seeing it again and having it all come back so clearly.

Even as a kid I knew it was pretty unique.  I’d never seen anything like that.  That crazy witch, that weird princess, the singing dog, and psychedelic settings.  I remember even at a really, really young age (like, six years old) that I really got bored with movies that didn’t have any depth to them.  Movies like Bambi and The Fox and the Hound were so predictable that I didn’t like watching them at all.  This one was definitely something new and different, and so it stuck with me.

Good times.  I wish there was a soundtrack.

the dust factory

I just watched the strangest movie I have ever seen in my life. I am so completely confused that I’m at a loss for words. I seriously don’t even know what to say about it, since I have no idea what in the world it was about.

The best way to cobble together an explanation is just cover what themes it touches on. Basically this teenage boy is about to die, but before he does he is whisked away to another reality, which is where most of the film takes place. There he meets other people in this limbo, including his grandfather who has Alzheimer’s, who teaches him about life, death, hope and courage. Then there’s a female about his age, and she’s supposed to help him see … something. I dunno, I’m still clueless.

I’m sure it would have been a great movie except that there’s no real story. It’s like watching a lesson being taught to you, and you can’t even understand what they’re trying to explain.

On the other hand, the acting was quite good, and that’s probably the only thing that kept me going. The main character was a mute to start with (in the dust factory, he talks just fine) and he did a great job with facial expressions.

Man, I wish the story had been better — this one certainly had potential, but it got caught up into trying to say too much in a roundabout way. I was really disappointed. It was one of those that I read the description, and just knew it was going to be original.

Gosh, that movie was weird.

finding dvds

Most weekends, like this one, I’ll venture out in the wild world of retail and start looking for stuff to buy. Usually DVDs, because I like movies a lot and I’m trying to complete my collection. I have a really hard time finding anything to buy for one of three reasons: the stores don’t stock what I want, I already have whatever they regularly stock or the prices are just too high.

Normally the problem is one of the first two issues, and has to do with stocking what I want. The problem with store stock is that they cover both ends of the specturum of movie quality and popularity, but never a wide variety of good stuff in the middle. One one hand you have major retail stores (Circuit City, Best Buy, Wal-Mart, Target, Shop-Ko, K-Mart, Fred Meyer) that always stock pretty much the same stuff – – whatever’s newly released that week, and then a small library of popular titles that are more likely to sell. On the other hand you have the local used CD and DVD stores which stock a wide variety, but for the most part it’s usually stuff that people don’t want to watch anyway. If a large portion of their business model is accepting used goods that someone didn’t want in the first place, then what are my chances of finding something I want? Going to the large retailers means I’m looking for a good bargain and hoping that they might miraculously dip into the larger market of “good movie, not as high sales.” The local stores is like starting at rock bottom and hoping that somewhere in the wide selection you’ll manage to find something that rises slightly above the level of crap that is worth watching and owning.

It’s a frustrating trend because there aren’t any brick and mortar store that just sells one of everything in the middle. The problem will persist as well, since it doesn’t make sense from a marketing perspective to do anything about it. The local stores couldn’t afford to buy a lot of DVDs and sell them for new because their prices would be higher. The major retail chains could undercut the local stores on price, but they’re always only going to waste their precious floorspace on something that has a much higher chance of selling.

Thankfully, Amazon is on the scene to sell me everything I want that’s in the long tail. I think it’s safe to say that probably half of my DVD collection is from them. They’re not paying high rental prices for a shop on the corner, so they can afford to stock one of everything in some warehouse probably in the middle of nowhere. Their prices are semi-competetive, but the real issue is that they are the ones who have the selection I want. Even if they don’t have it in stock, at least online retailers have a product page, so other people can list theirs as used.

Shopping online is the complete opposite of browsing in the store. Online you can know ahead of time exactly what you’re looking for (wish lists) and your time is spent mostly debating whether or not it falls into your price range or not. Going to the stores though, it’s a miracle just if I find something that I want to buy. What’s really interesting though is even though I know my chances are around 5 to 10 percent of finding something locally, I still go out almost every weekend looking. I’m always optimistic that I just *might* find something this time. You never know. Sometimes I do get lucky.

Another huge variable in this equation though is my personal preference. I’m not into most of the mainstream interests, so my chances of finding something like “Jack the Giant Killer” or “Winsor McCay – The Master Edition” in a store are slim to none in the first place. Naturally nobody’s to blame for that except for me.

Still, I really wish there was a store that had “one of everything.” There’s just something about going to the store and having it right then that is way cooler than waiting a few days for it to arrive in the mail. I think it’s more than just impulse shopping, though I’m not sure what. Interesting stuff, anyway.

no star wars for you?

I haven’t done a DVD update in a while (mostly because I’m poor and I can’t afford gas, much less Season Two of kick butt cartoon tv shows), but here’s one that I’ve been curious about — the second release of the Star Wars trilogy on DVD.

I happened to be meandering through the evil empire of Wal-Mart on Saturday, and I saw the Star Wars display. Interestingly enough, it was completely full. There was maybe 3 copies sold from then entire box sitting up there. Now, I knew the re-release wouldn’t sell too well, but I wasn’t expecting that. I’m curious what people’s take is on it, though. If they are going to buy them or they’re not, either way, for what reason?

Myself, I’ll definately be getting a copy as soon as I can afford it, and for one simple reason: I don’t like the special edition remakes at all. I’m not a Star Wars purist by any stretch of the imagination, but I think all those special “additions” were just plain really dumb, and I’d rather see the movie as I originally saw it years ago. That’s it for me. I don’t know how they are justifying the $20 a DVD though.

the maltese falcon

I finally rented and watched The Maltese Falcon this week. I really love old movies, and this is one of those on my list of “I’m surprised I haven’t ever seen it yet.” It’s supposed to be considered a classic, I guess. I enjoyed most of it, although the pace was a little fast for me at times to follow what was really going on. It wasn’t until after I watched the special features on the disc after the movie that I realized it was a film noir.

This is only the second definitive film noir movie I’ve seen, the first one was The Third Man, and in both cases I’ve been left a little confused as to what’s going on. A lot of that stems from the fact that I was expecting a drama with an interesting mystery story line, but both of those take a back seat to what really gets the spotlight: characters with interesting backgrounds and moral and social flexibility. That’s what it seems like to me, at least. The story in both of them is really about how there are these tough people, both good and bad, which are pretty hardened and can cross the line to do some pretty nasty things if pushed a little too hard. What’s still interesting though is how everyone has this prim and proper gentleman approach, which makes the movies even more fascinating to me.

After watching a few of the classics though, at this point I’d have to say the genre really isn’t in my style. I love parts of it, like the gentelman detectives, the femme fatales, and the polite crooks, but the story takes a real backdrop. I think I’d actually like pulp fiction much better would I watch it more.

In fact, my first extensive encounters with classic drama was with radio, not movies. I’ve seen a lot of old movies, but not nearly as many old time radio dramas that I’ve listened to. Neither number is very high (in the low dozens), but its radio where I got my expectations on how the movies would be. So far I haven’t seen much at all that is similar, but then again, I haven’t seen much at all to begin with.

In fact, what’s really curious is that the movie The Third Man is really much, much different than the radio drama series, which I absolutely love. In that one, Harry Lime is a fast talking scam man who doesn’t mind double crossing the crooks if the police’s reward money is slightly more. The Sam Spade radio stories, though, are probably pretty spot-on with what this movie was like though. I know I haven’t heard many of them, but mentally they’re not on my list of ones to collect, so I must have not been really impressed by them when I was first investigating all the series that are out there.

The great thing is that when it comes to old movies, there is just a whole other world to discover, with all kinds of different takes on genre, film, story, and character. That, and there are lots and lots and lots of them, with lots of original stories in settings that I never grew up in. I still have a ton of old movies in my queue to watch that I’ll get around to sooner or later, and I’m sure there’s gonna be quite a few that I enjoy. Film noir, it seems, is not for me though. No big loss, there’s still plenty to go around. :)