Thursday, June 14, 2007

Rollin' in new movies (and tips on buying them)

As anyone who knows me personally can tell you, I love watching movies, and I am very proud of my DVD collection. As well I should be, having over 300 titles. I don't collect Criterions (high-dollar remasters) or Superbits (extras-free high quality masters) or anything, but I do insist on widescreen, primarily to preserve the director's vision, and secondly because we now have a widescreen TV and want to make the most of it. (Actually, many widescreen titles still show the black bars on our TV, because a widescreen TV is the aspect ratio of the widest widescreen format, and some are even wider - hence the need for the black bars. But at least it looks better than on an analog set - to make a long story short, DVD is a digital format and therefore pixel-based, with square pixels, and analog TVs (anything that isn't HD) have round or hexagonal pixels. VHS might have looked fine on your SDTV (what they call non-HDTVs now) because the signal was analog. Your DVDs might even look fine, but trust me, you're losing quality.

Our DVD collection. Most of it, anyway. We have a lot in a binder, too, and that hexagonal .hack//SIGN case has five of the six volumes of the epic anime series about a gamer unable to log out of a popular MMORPG (what World of Warcraft is). Oh, Jen and I need to watch that again. Anyway, click the image to make it grow.

Anyway, I scored some new DVDs over the last couple months. The links go to IMDb, which has a ton more information on these movies, if you're interested.

Asylum - This came with Hannibal Rising (see below). I have no idea what this was. A TV movie, with Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange, Star Trek VII: Generations) and Robert Patrick (Terminator 2: Judgment Day, The Marine). McDowell's cool, but Patrick is hit-and-miss. I'll check it out sometime but I am in no hurry.

First Blood - As much as I consider myself a film buff, I haven't seen some key 1980s movies. Indiana Jones, Rambo, Rocky, Jaws - I have seen none of them. First Blood is the first Rambo movie, so I'll see what I think of them. Funny thing is I actually like Stallone in what I've seen him in (I'm thinkin' of Demolition Man, where he starred opposite Wesley Snipes in the future) but I haven't seen anything from his two main franchises.

Free Enterprise - All the hype about this movie is around two nerds meeting their idol, Star Trek star William Shatner, but this is really a movie about these two guys nearing the big 3-0 and their romantic lives. If you've seen Kevin Smith's masterpiece Clerks., or his follow-up Mallrats, and enjoyed those, this is right up your alley. Two buddies who know everything about a particular niche of pop culture. With Kevin Smith it was superheroes, here it's Star Trek. I found this movie to be about 20 minutes too long, but it was enjoyable.

Friends - The One With All the Parties - Jen wanted a specific Friends episode
, and she's pretty sure it's "The one with all the resolutions" on this collection of 7 episodes from the popular show. But either way she'll enjoy it. I don't much care for this. Or Melrose Place. And especially not F'in 90210 - words cannot describe my dislike for these stupid shows. They call Star Trek fantasy, but future tech aside, I consider the diversity of Star Trek casts to be far more realistic than these "everbody's a supermodel" shows. By far.

Hannibal Rising - I've always been a fan of Hannibal Lecter movies, from Silence of the Lambs to Hannibal, even Red Dragon. I didn't check out the first one without Anthony Hopkins, Manhunter (which is the same story as Red Dragon anyway, just with different people - yawn) and this one doesn't have Hopkins either, but can't because Hannibal is much younger - no more than 20, I think. Well, it starts out with him as a kid, and cuts short of showing us what made Hannibal so crazy, which is revealed slowly throughout the film. I read Hannbal, the book, and it explained that already, but wasn't in that movie, so I kind of knew this was going to be made at some point. Anthony Hopkins is the definitive (if not first) Hannibal Lecter, but this new guy does alright, too.

Jurassic Park - You get a big-screen TV, this is one of the first movies you get after the Star Wars movies, the better Star Trek movies (2-4, 6, 8-10), Independence Day... basically you get the ones that were just made for the theater. I haven't watched it on the big screen yet (well, since I saw it in the theater in Petaluma, CA, before they closed that one) but Jen and I will, soon.

Meet the Fockers - Meet the Parents was the only thing I liked Ben Stiller in until this came out. The sparring between Stiller and Robert DeNiro is great. As a sequel this is more of the same, but still fun and very much worth watching if you want a laugh.

U-571 - I used to not like "sub movies" but after this, Hunt for Red October, and Crimson Tide, I can't really say I don't like them, although I still maintain that, in general, I don't care for war movies (Braveheart being one notable exception). I can't remember what this one was about, but I know I liked it, and I got it for $4, so I couldn't lose there.

WrestleMania 23 - I just had to get this. The WWE usually (though not always) saves their best matches for the pay-per-view, and they try to get the best contests happening around March-April to culminate at WrestleMania, the company's flagship PPV. This one had some decent matches, but sorely missed a Mick Foley match to compete with Edge spearing him into a flaming table in WM22. Chris Benoit is one of the most talented people up there, but relative newcomer MVP gave him a decent challenge. The monster and diva matches were pretty much filler. The ECW match, the "Originals" vs. the "New Breed" had me divided. The originals have some legends - Sabu and Tommy Dreamer - but New Breed's Marcus Cor Von and Elijah Burke are two of the most exciting performers on the ECW brand. Money in the Bank III was amazing - eight guys, every man for himself, the objective being to take a ladder, bring it into the ring, set it up, climb to the top, and retrieve a briefcase hanging high above the center of the ring. (The value of the briefcase is the right to challenge any solo title holder for their belt at any time - it's usually cashed in at the end of a match when said champ is beaten bloody.) Battle of the Billionaires was a joke, but fun - McMahon and Trump putting their hair on the line with representatives (Umaga for McMahon, and Bobby Lashley for Trump) fighting it out and future hall of famer Stone Cold Steve Austin as the ref. This match had a couple surprises, too. (Shane helps his dad cheat.) The two championship matches - Batista vs. Undertaker and John Cena vs. Shawn Michaels - were pretty much the usual, excpet for Cena's entrance, driving a brand-new Mustang GT (cuz the match was at Ford Field) through town and eventually crashing into the arena, which was real cool. If you're not into wrestling and want a start, grab this and watch the Money in the Bank match - it's this collection's best offering.

But that's not all! I have a few on the way from

A Time to Kill - The film adaptation of John Grisham's debut novel, and one of his best movies. I do prefer Runaway Jury (which I also have) and The Rainmaker (see below) is also good. This one is up there for sure. It starts out with the brutal rape of an 8-year-old black girl by two white men (it's an American film - you don't see anything, just hear screams... as opposed to the book which gave just a little too much information) and is shortly followed by their murder by the girl's father, played by none other than Samuel L. Jackson, who winds up on trial for it. Great courtroom action, great drama, good movie about race relations, too. The subject matter is a little offensive, but it's not that hard to watch.

Good Will Hunting - I never saw this when it was out. I didn't take it seriously. But Kevin Smith, a new favorite director of mine and Jen's longtime favorite, seems to like it, and I think he had a part in it (producer?) so we're checking it out. I want to say Robin Williams is in it, too - another point for it - but I don't know for sure. I want to see this, in any case.

The Rainmaker - Another good legal thriller by John Grisham made successfully into a good movie. Matt Damon plays a rookie lawyer going after an insurance company, and Danny DeVito (always entertaining - that reminds me, I need to get Twins) is his mentor, despite failing the bar exam about 15 times. Normally he'd be called a paralegal, but he calls himself a "paralawyer" because he knows more about the law than anyone, just can't pass the test to become a bona-fide attorney-at-law.

Speed - File this under necessary big-screen TV viewing. Though they'd both done other stuff before, this is really what got both Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock started. Dennis Hopper plays a wicked bomber. You all know the story - the bus goes over 55, the bomb is armed, but once it falls below, the bomb is detonated. Good stuff.

Swordfish - If you've heard people talking about this movie, they were probably talking about the famous scene in which Halle Berry bares her breasts on-camera. That's all well and good, but this John Travolta action film has more than that to offer. I just haven't seen it in so long, and wanted to see it again. (And I won't deny seeing Halle Berry on the big screen plays some part. I am a man, after all.)

Looking at this list you might think I'm spending too much on movies, that I don't have my priorities in order, but that isn't the case. I've built a massive DVD library, but I haven't paid nearly as much as you might think. I'll share three of my biggest secrets. Some secrets are just not meant to be shared, but here's the three best ones:

Avoid buying new movies. They cost more, of course, and there are undoubtedly plenty of better movies you've missed over the last few years. Hit up your town's pawn shops and other such secondhand stores. Check flea markets (although NEVER buy a DVD that's been sitting in the sun, even if it's in the case). Movie rental places (e.g. Hollywood, Blockbuster, even some independents) sell used movies. They buy too many copies of popular movies and sell them when the demand goes down. The biggest thing about buying DVDs secondhand is quality. Ask to inspect the disc. Make sure the bottom is free from scratches. Some can be fixed, but if it goes through the label or the label is dinged, the DVD will not play correctly. Insist on quality - if it isn't like-new, reject it. We just got 3 movies for $12 at a pawn shop. Movie rental places like to do 3/$20, 4/$30. If you can pay around $10 for a DVD, that's alright if it's good. If you can pay less, that's good. If you can pay under $5, that's great and ideal. Usually you have to buy in quantity, but that's fine.

Second, buy online. Brick-and-mortar places mark movies up too high. They're fair on new releases, but if you look at what Amazon wants for movies that are just a few years old (around $10) you can see how badly places like Best Buy and Walmart mark up their movies (although both are the best the first week a movie's out). There are places besides Amazon, but they're who I have an account with. I feel comfortable shopping with them, and they've always been good to me. Plus, their site is very fun to browse. In fact Amazon and Google are my two favorite online companies.

Third, save your coins. Use a mayonnaise jar or something. Not too big - ideally, I'd say, something around 1-2" wide and 4-5" tall. Ours is pictured below. Here's how I save mine: I put every quarter and every dime I get into the jar. I'll put some nickels in there, but I'll spend some, too. When purchasing items at the store, I only pay with paper cash and pennies (the occasional nickel) - or plastic. Like if the order is for $2.33, I'll put three pennies, a nickel, and then three ones in, and get 3 quarters back. When the jar is filled, I take it to the store, where they have a machine called Coinstar, at which most people pay 8.9¢ on the dollar for it to count their coins and give them a cash voucher. I pay no fee and instead get an gift code - a long alphanumeric code which Coinstar registers with Amazon for the exact value of my change. Look at the coin jar - that filled with 110 quarters, 122 dimes, 21 nickels, and 6 pennies (the Coinstar slip tells you exactly how many of each you had) got me $40.81. will ship for free on orders over $25. If I kept it under, I would have gotten four of those last five movies free, with shipping. But I went just $2.13 over, so that's all that I put on the card. Oh, and it only took me about 2-3 months to save that much. That's a movie every couple weeks - not bad if it were my only way of getting movies, but it isn't.

Our coin jar, to the right of the duct tape and to the left of the pez dispenser. I had to get Frank in there - the demonic bunny from Donnie Darko. So you can kind of see how big it was. That slam-packed with quarters and dimes was worth just under $41, just about enough to get me 5 movies on Click the image to see it full-sized.

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