History: Kim and I began collecting movies soon after moving to Italy. San Vito Italy was my first duty station with the Air Force. Separated from the mainstream American culture, we didn't have a lot of choices when it came to television. There was only one t.v. channel broadcast in English: SEB (Southern European Broadcasting). An AFRTS (Armed Forces Radio and Television Service) affiliate. Military television programming was rather austere back in the 80s. Loaded with family oriented programming, and other 'approved' viewing choices. Needless to say my wife and I quickly obtained a VCR, and began watching our own alternate 'channel'. We've been collecting videos ever since. We made the switch to DVD in the early 90's, and we pretty much stick exclusively to DVDs now... Well, time never stands still, does it? and now I own five blu-ray discs...
From the contents of my collection you might be able to learn something about me. There are some really good movies in there, with a few lumps of coal scattered about. Check out the ones rated 5 stars to find my favorites. I've presented the movies in alphabetical order.
My absolute favorite is "Shadow Dragon - The Ninja Movie". Something that my friends and I made back in 1984. We made this movie just before I left for the Air Force. We had a fantastic time making it, and I watch it at least once a year. The movie was originally shot directly to VHS, but a friend (Rob Garrity) edited the footage and produced a master version for VHS. That was back in 1984. It took quite some time, but we've managed to get the movie onto DVD. My cousin (Mike Vaessen) converted it from analog to digital. I edited and remastered the footage. Then I authored the movie, burning it to DVD. It took a lot of work, a G5 powerhouse, and quite a bit of research, but it's now preserved indefinitely in digital format. We often quote from it, reliving our younger days with each utterance of the words "I don't know Joe; Sell your farm!".
I'm sure you're getting tired of listening to me reminisce about my days back home on the farm (I didn't really live on a farm, but I spent a lot of time at the farms of my friends). O.k. on with the list already, without further delay, I present: My Collection of movies. Perhaps you'll find something interesting amongst my pile of ferric-oxide coated mylar, and laser encoded plastic.
Movie Musings: A few disconnected thoughts regarding some of the more recent offerings at the theater. What I didn't like. See if you can follow this formula... Time Machine (The new one) = Planet of the Apes (The re-imagination) = Pearl Harbor = Yuck!
Indeed; I despised all the above films. They were all cheap romance novels disguised as adventure themed movies. The original Planet of the Apes was a fantastic movie, full of social subtext, and political overtones. The original Time Machine was an imaginative romp, which filled viewers with a sense of wonder and hope. Pearl Harbor should have been about the horrors of war and man's ability to overcome adversity. All the movies listed above (in the formula) sucked (in my opinion). They were cheap ticket draws, duping the public into the illusion that they might contain something worth watching. They were merely sappy romance novels, peppered with beautiful people, exploding eye candy, and a watered down excuse of a plot. The remakes listed above are worse than Pearl Harbor. Titanic is one of the few exceptions to my formula - The story and exceptional cinematic work were blended perfectly by a master. The overall experience rose well above the sappy love scenes and overhyped publicity.
What I look for: What exactly is it that makes me like a movie? I think I've figured part of that out. First of all, the acting must be believable. I should never find myself thinking about how this person isn't believable in the role they're playing. I should forget that they're acting. Casting is very important. Secondly, is the director using the characters, set, and plot in a way which helps convey the story? Are all my senses utilized, tantalized, engrossed? By the way, I cannot stand movies where post production sound washes the environment (or music) over the characters lines. It sucks. I don't care whether it's more realistic. The objective is entertainment, and telling the story is more important than realism. If I want realism over story, I'll walk outside the theater and participate in it, or I'll watch an episode of cops. When I'm in the theater watching a movie I want to know what the characters are saying. I want to know what's going on. Thirdly, I enjoy movies with an original and engrossing plot. If I'm constantly predicting (accurately) the plot lines five minutes ahead of the action, then something is definitely wrong with the plot. I like surprises, I like being stumped, I like it when I'm shocked, surprised, scared shitless and forced to emote. Personally, I really enjoy movies where the plot is twisted and complicated.
As an example of a movie I really liked, see π: Faith in Chaos by Darren Arnofsky. I liked it so much that I took notes, and committed them to hard copy. Sometimes I review them, or share them with friends. It's one of very few movies, where I found myself rewinding in order to hear the dialog again. Not because I missed something. But, because I wanted to hear it again, make sure I got it right. Savoring the incredible content of each line. A fantastic movie. Maybe you'd like to read the notes (in pdf format) as well.
What I really despise: Oh how I hate movies where I have to constantly adjust the volume! If the cast is whispering in a night club, I still want to hear what they're saying. I absolutely hate it when I have to hold the remote in my hand, and adjust the volume throughout the movie. O.k. a plane is flying overhead; turn the volume all the way down or become deaf. Oh, they're whispering again; turn the volume all the way up, or I might miss some plot point in the dialog. It's a movie, not reality! Knock it off with the ambient sound already. I know that airplanes are loud, I know that whispering is hard to hear. Stop torturing me already! Any movie that has this problem automatically loses one or two points. Wouldn't it be nice to hear what the actors are saying? I'm trying to follow the plot, but the god dammed crickets are too loud! Another thing I detest is violence for the sake of violence. I'm a non-violent person, and I don't care to watch movies that are simply exhibitions of physical violence.
Reviews: Here's a list of movies I've seen this year. The list contains a short review, synopsis, commentary on each movie. Something like that. The movies are rated 1-5. I subscribe to NetFlix, watch movies from my own collection, and sometimes get out to the theater. The movies from my collection are titled in italics. The rest (unless noted otherwise) are NetFlix rentals. I update this listing throughout the month. Hopefully you'll find a movie or two to watch after perusing my reviews.
Favorites: Back in June of 2005, some friends asked what my all time favorite movies were. Well, I hadn't though much about it at the time. But I've been thinking about it ever since. I guess I'd have to categorize my favorites by genre. I don't have a favorite picked for every category, but I definitely have a few picked out. I'll list the first few here, and I'll add to it as my opinions solidify around the best of each genre.
Comedy: The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra
A spoof on 1950's sci-fi movies. This little gem always leaves me rolling on the floor. The lines! Oh my god. Whoever wrote this knew what they were doing. The cast are complete unknowns, but that's a good thing. The set and locations are perfect. The film style is also well done. A scientist and the doting 'scientists wife' are investigating a meteorite siting. An evil-scientist is trying to revive the lost skeleton of Cadavra, and a pair of stranded aliens must refuel their space-ship and recover their mutant. Put all these characters together for dinner and watch what happens! It isn't just a funny movie, it's a well crafted parody/homage. Incorporating time tested B (for Bad) movie film techniques, and directing style, this one is well worth the watching. Days later I find myself describing the movie to friends, and falling over with laughter at the comic genius of this movie. A genre defining 5 of 5.
Independent: Pi - Faith in Chaos
Brilliant - A brain twister. Part sci-fi, part history, part documentary. This movie is a shining example of what happens when the right person directs the right film. Shot in black & white, this cerebral thriller confounds the senses. Pleasing to the eye, enthralling to the ears and captivating the mind. The mysteries abound in this strange movie about math and religion. Can someone find god through science? Great casting, great acting and absolutely unstoppable writing. I enjoyed this movie so much that I analyzed it from beginning to end and took copious notes. A solid 5 of 5.
You might be wondering why I've got a sci-fi movie in the horror slot. It's simple. This movie created a dark mood, a claustrophobic horror flick that chilled me to the bone. This is one of those movies where I just couldn't get to sleep afterwards. I must have jumped out of my seat a hundred times. The music, the lighting, the sounds, the story, the Monster! This movie scared me more than the exorcist. The work of H.R. Giger, the colors, costumes, textures, sweat and violence created a world of fear that the crew couldn't escape from. This is the kind of movie that makes your heart quiver in your chest, you're breath comes in shallow spurts, and the adrenalin runs rampant through your bloodstream. I felt like a train wreak after watching this horror masterpiece! Genre defying 5 out of 5.
Science Fiction: Blade Runner
My favorite sci-fi movie. Directed by Ridley Scott, starring Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Edward James Olmos, M. Emmet Walsh, Daryl Hannah, William Sanderson, Brion James and others. This movie is based on a novel by Philip K Dick (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?), the quintessential cyber-punk author. Many of his books have been made into movies (Blade Runner, Total Recall, Screamers, Minority Report, Paycheck, A Scanner Darkly), and this is one which received some excellent attention. Ridley Scott's direction and the screen play writers did an outstanding job, as did the actors. Harrison Ford plays a less than heroic detective in a seedy, down-and-out dark future, where clones, robots and people are packed together in an increasingly tense and violent existence. Rutger Hauer and a group of his friends? play model 6 replicants, searching for mortality and morality beyond their programmed termination dates. This movie isn't a simple, single genre, single theme movie. It's deep, layered, subtle and complex. The brooding, moody, 80's music was as dark as the film, and fit as snuggly as a synthetic hand. The performances in this movie were exceptional. The sets, lighting, and costumes helped created a vision of the future that has been often emulated but never duplicated. The special effects for their time were astonishing. A technological achievement seldom equaled, never exceeded. A great movie. A genre defining/defying 5 out of 5.
Action: The chronicles of Riddick As an action flick, Riddick rises above the tide. A cinematic masterpiece, music that enhances the visual expression, costumes that speak of a deeper vision, sets and special effects worthy of a cinematic experience. There are action scenes unlike any other movie. Combat that is a blur, a montage, a transmogrified visual representation of pain and fury. The characters are swept up in a fast paced story that leaves this audience wishing for more. More background, better acting, and a deeper meaning. The DVD version that I own is an unrated director's cut. The additional scenes add character depth, motivation, and additional background for this sci-fi inferno of non-stop action and thrilling adventure. 5 out of 5.
Documentary: Dogtown and Z-Boys
A documentary about surfers turned skaters. The revolutionary Zephyr team and how they created the Skate culture in America. A great documentary. Well directed, great narration, excellent music, and a visual style that complements the rebellious nature of the subject. The video production contained some really good fades, cuts and scene effects. Very well done. Mixing live interviews, vintage film footage, stills and narration - You don't have to be a skate punk to enjoy this documentary. These innovators tore up the pavement with more than polyurethane. This was a documentary about boys who would be kings. Alpha males one and all. They lived the life, became the legends and led a revolution. 5 out of 5.
Foreign: The Seven Samurai
(Japanese - Shichinin no samurai) Black & White, produced in 1954 and directed by Akira Kurisawa, this movie is a magnificent piece of cinematic art. Fantastic acting, great direction, masterful choreography, outstanding music, and a terrific story. This movie has been remade a few times, most notably as The Magnificent Seven, but the original version is the best. 17th century Japanese farmers hire ronin Samurai to protect them from a group of marauding bandits. This 3.5 hour movie contains plenty of drama, comedy, and action. A great epic. A classic. This movie started me on a path of director appreciation. Before this work, I used to follow actors nor directors. That all changed after I saw two movies by Akira Kurosawa. I give it a 5 out of 5.
Drama: Cool Hand Luke Magnificent film. Truly classic. Paul Newman's performance in this movie goes way beyond the standard performance. Understated and flippant; Newman plays the character like a concert pianist. The writing (Novel and screenplay) by Don Pearce was fantastic. The directing by Stuart Rosenburg (aka Alan Smithee) was outstanding. The main character is convicted of destroying public property and sent to a rural southern prison camp, where he works on a chain gang and strives to maintain his identity in a destructive atmosphere. He attempts escape on several occasions, and the warden is not happy. "What we have here is a failure to communicate." This one gets a 5 out of 5. Netflix sure has me figured out. It recommended this movie based on my rating of the following movies: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, On the Waterfront, Deliverance, The Bridge on the River Kwai, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, The Dirty Dozen, Dog Day Afternoon and Chinatown. I rated all these movies 5 out of 5. Keep up the good work NetFlix.
Western: High Noon Masterful movie work by Fred Zinnemann. This movie featured brilliant casting - Starring Gary Cooper, Thomas Mitchell, Lloyd Bridges, Katy Jurado, Grace Kelly, Otto Kruger, Lon Chaney Jr, Lee Van Cleef, Robert J. Wilke and many others. The story of a lawman about to retire with his new wife. As he's about to leave town and settle down, he learns that his arch-nemesis has been released from prison. Due in on the noon train, he's looking to settle an old square. The Marshall decides to stick around for the final show-down. Knowing that it may spell certain doom, he sticks to his gun for what he know's is right. If he high-tails it the town will pay dearly. He attempts to recruit some help, but in the end it's him against the gang. This is a fabulous movie. The pacing is absolutely fantastic. A real-time drama that unfolds in a little under 90 minutes. As the clock counts down, the tensions rise and the outlook gets dimmer. The ending is fantastic, and I've got to get a copy of this movie. The writing was simple, tight, taught and thoroughly enjoyable. The camera work was great and the music was truly exceptional. Especially the Tex Ritter ballad. 5 out of 5.
The 'Must Watch' List: Movies I'd like to see. Some are in the theater now, some will have to wait until they percolate through my NetFlix queue (which is WAY larger than this list (NetFlix won't let me have more than 500 movies in my queue at any one time. Take a guess, how many do you think I've got in my queue?)), and some I may never see. But here they are anyway. Hopefully I'll get to see some of them. Note: Many of these movie are in NetFlix's 'Not Yet Released' queue, and some aren't even available for that queue yet. Movies in green italics are not yet available on DVD (or Netflix watch instantly), so it might be some time before I get to see them.
Towards the end of the movie "Cinema Paradiso", there's a scene where the main character is looking for a note written on the back of a film shipping receipt. As the main character reads off the titles on the receipts, it's apparent that this was the director's way of listing some important movies. Movies that helped create the character portrayed in the film. The shipping receipts constitute a list of movies that I'd like to watch. Unfortunately, many of these movies are not available on DVD yet. Here's a list of the movies that were mentioned.
Magnificent Obsession (1954 version) Seen (Comcast on demand) and reviewed in May of '07. It got a 4 of 5. Not available on DVD
The Cry (Italian - Grido, Il (1957)) - Seen and reviewed in March of '05. It got a 4 out of 5.
Moby Dick (1956 version) - Viewed in Aug of '08. Rated it 5 out of 5.
The movie "My Voyage to Italy" was a fantastic auto-biographical documentary by the director Martin Scorsese. In this movie, Scorsese talks about early Italian cinema, and the films that helped shape his life's work. As he analyzes and waxes on these classic movies, we see into the soul of a native American son. We see the heritage that lives in all of us, the tragic, dramatic and powerful images that shaped our generation. While I've already seen some of the movies he mentioned, I learned of many more which interest me. I can only hope that these great works will one day be recognized by the American audience at large. Here is a list of some of the movies mentioned in the documentary. These are the movies that I'm planning to watch. There are many more mentioned, but I've already seen some of them, and others are unavailable on DVD. If your a fan of well crafted movies, despite their origin or age, do yourself a favor - Enjoy your own 'Voyage to Italy', rent some of these movies. The year of release is original release date, not the U.S. release date.
La Dolce Vita (1960) - dir. Federico Fellini. Seen and reviewed, Sep of 2007. It got a 4 out of 5.
Umberto D. (1952) - dir. Vittorio De Sica. Seen and reviewed, Feb of 2008. It got 4 out of 5.
La Terra Trema (1948 / Terra trema: Episodio del mare, La) - dir. Luchino Visconti. Seen and reviewed, Jun of 2008. It got 4 out of 5.
The Flowers of St. Francis (1950 / Francesco, giullare di Dio) - dir. Roberto Rossellini. Seen and reviewed, Aug of 2008. Rated 3 out of 5.
Germany, Year Zero (1948 / Germania anno zero) - dir Roberto Rossellini. Mar of 2008. 4 out of 5.
Ossessione (1943) - dir. Luchino Visconti . Seen and reviewed, Feb '08. I rated it 4 out of 5.
Cabiria (1914) - dir. Giovanni Pastrone. Seen and reviewed, May of 2008. It got a 2 out of 5.
Shoeshine (1946 / Sciuscià) - dir. Vittorio De Sica. Reviewed Jul of 2011. I gave it a 4 out of 5.
The Crowd (1928) - dir. King Vidor (not yet released) An American film.
The Damned (1969 / La Caduta degli dei) - dir. Luchino Visconti . Seen and reviewed, Feb of 2008. 4 out of 5.
Why would I bother watching some of these movies? Who knows, many reasons - pick one. For some it's because of the actor/actress, for others it's the director. Maybe I read a favorable review, or saw a preview that looked good.
How's that for a lineup? Looks like there'll be a lot of movies worth watching in the coming year. Some of the titles have links to trailers, if you've got DSL or cable, check 'em out. Other links are just IMDB listings.
The 'Must Buy' List: Movies I plan on purchasing. I probably won't buy all of them, some I'll buy as soon as they become available. Some I'll wait a while for. Some I'll hope for as Christmas gifts. Anyway, I've seen all of them, and liked them enough to put them on this list. Some I'll buy pre-viewed, some I'll buy retail, some I'll buy through eBay. Some will stay on the list until I find them in the VHS bargain bin.
Why would I want to buy any of these movies? For the same reasons I'd want to watch them. Movies I've seen, loved, and rated highly. None of these are impulse buys. These were selected from movies I've rated highly. Only the really good stuff makes it's way to this list. * - Recently ordered
What have I acquired lately?: I've purchased a few movies during 2012; a few must have gems. I've slowed way down on my movie purchases; as a matter of fact, I'm beginning to wonder why I should purchase movies. Netflix maintains 'my library'. Any time I want to watch a movie, I put it in my DVD queue (If I don't already own it, if it's not on 'Watch Instantly'). I wait a couple of days. Netflix delivers the DVD, I watch it and return it. Why do I need my own copies? It's a difficult concept to embrace. I've always been taught that I must own something to derive enjoyment from it. Slowly the American public is beginning to realize that digital content makes access far easier, and ownership less of a necessity when it comes to media.
Over the last several months I've purchased a few movies. Purchased here and there, some were on my 'must buy list' while others were impulse purchases while waiting in line at the local Wal-Mart (yes I'm still guilty of that particular capitalist sin). Other than the Wal-Mart impulse purchases, I also purchased a few DVDs, one Blu-Ray disc, and a couple digital movies (through the iTunes store). Here's the latest acquisitions.
* Stalag 17: (1953 - Drama, war, comedy, thriller) Directed by Billy Wilder, the master of dramas (who lost family members to the Nazis during the Holocaust). This movie featured a fantastic cast - William Holden, Don Taylor, Otto Preminger, Robert Strauss, Harvey Lembeck, Richard Erdman, Peter Graves, Neville Brand, Sig Ruman and others. The screen play, based on a play was excellent. The mix of comedy and drama was perfectly balanced. An excellent example of dramatic relief through comedy. Despite the dark thrilling aspects of this witty drama, the dancing, singing and humor were handled with the greatest care and attention. Creating a sublime, but bittersweet tale of the hardships these men faced. The acting was outstanding. Especially the portrayal of 'Animal' by Robert Strauss, and William Holden's excellent portrayal of Sefton - the survivor with a hidden heart of gold. This movie formed the basis of the "Hogan's Heroes" television series, which ran for six seasons. Influences from this movie can clearly be seen in M.A.S.H. and other 'POW camp' movies. The camp itself was very realistic. Not the antiseptic set of a hollywood back lot. The story is one of deception, drama, and escape from a Nazi POW camp. As the American prisoners strive to escape or survive, their every move is thwarted and shadowed by the camps overseers. There's a spy in their midst, and they've got to figure out who it is before the next escape attempt. Lives are hanging in the balance, and the German's aren't playing any games in this camp. Awesome pacing, editing, and great direction combine with outstanding acting and music to mark a memorable movie about life in a WWII POW camp. I liked it so much, I'm adding it to my list of must buy movies. FYI: This movie won three academy awards in 1954. William Holden got best actor, Robert Strauss got best supporting actor, and Billy Wilder got best director. 5 out of 5.
* Equinox: My Review: An amazing low budget, b-grade, sci-fi masterpiece. Created as a student project with a $6,500.00 price tag, this film manages to incorporate all the classic earmarks of low budget cult movies. A small amateur cast, an isolated setting, ambitious special effects, and a lot of imagination. The story begins in narrative by a lone survivor, but it quickly enters the realm of first person as we're captivated by this fantastic sci-fi, horror plot involving an amazing set of characters, stop motion animation, excellent (if low budge) special effects and a crazy story. A group of California teenagers stumble upon a mystical book, a hidden castle, and a demonic plot. The characters are outstanding, the special effects cheesy but awesome and the plot as crazy as the mad hatter. The pacing was perfect, the tension high, and I was glued to the screen as this magnificent amateur production paraded across my 52" flat panel. I love b-horror/sci-fi and this movie fits perfectly into the pantheon of classics such as 'Evil Dead', 'The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra' and 'Incubus' (with William Shatner). I loved it. 5 out of 5.
With these new purchases, I updated my main movies page, the listings in my movie collection, and an alphabetical index that I'm working on. Hopefully my next movie purchase won't be an impulse buy at the checkout counter. The movies on my 'Must Buy'' list are much better choices, but they can't always be found in the discount bin of a grocery store.
Netflix is awesome. It's easy to use - Point-N-Click to pick your movies on the web. It's inexpensive - As of 14 Jan, 2012, we're paying $19.98 per month for two discs out at a time ($11.99) + unlimited streaming ($7.99). From October 16th - Nov 15th, 2008, Kim and I saw 34 shows on DVD, and 59 using our Roku Player (see below). That's a total of 93 shows! If you calculate the cost per movie (we were on a 4 at-a-time plan at the time (for $23.99 / month ($25.87 w/tax)), that comes out to approximately $0.28 per show; an immense savings over the other rental options (which are slowly dropping out of the race). It's convenient - No need to drive to the rental place (there's some more savings!). It's got a huge variety of movies - Over 130,000 at last count*. If you've got a PC or an Intel based Mac, you can watch 28,000* titles instantly on your computer. You can even stream Netflix (Mac or PC) to a compatible media device (I use my Apple TVs (2nd, 3rd and 1st generations), one of two Roku players, a Samsung BD-P3600 blu-ray player, a Sony BDP-S185 blu-ray player, my Computer, one of our MacBook Pro laptops, my iPhone (currently carrying a 4S), and my iPad (2nd generation)). Netflix movies can be streamed to a stand alone set-top box such as the Roku player, iPad, iPhone, the new Apple TV, an X-Box 360, The PS3, the Wii, a TiVo, a growing selection of Blu-Ray players, home theater systems and internet connected televisions. The cost for streaming? Well, as of late 2011, you can add streaming to any of the 'disc-at-a-time' plans, or go for streaming only - for $7.99 a month.
Speaking of streaming, if you're looking for a way to stream video content (from Netflix and hundreds of other sources), The Roku box works like a charm. I oughta know, I started using one in September of 2008! One of my favorite Netflix features is the fact that it makes recommendations (when you rate movies that you've watched), and the recommendations get better as you rate more movies. With 50 distribution centers, most movies are delivered in one business day. Oh, yeah one other thing - No due dates and no late fees! I recommend Netflix to all my movie watching friends.
Kim and I are currently (as of 16 Sep, 2011) using the 2 discs-at-a-time + watch instantly streaming. That plan costs us $19.98 / month ($21.55 w/tax). We find the 'Watch Instantly' variety and convenience have more than made up for a reduction in the number of discs out at a time. We were on a five-at-a-time plan at one point (switched to two out at a time in Nov of 2010).
*These numbers are estimates based on the results of some Feedflix analysis reported to their blog on the 10th of Sep 2010. Netflix hasn't updated their 'official' numbers since at least 31 Mar, 2010.
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