Saturday, May 27, 2006

DVD libraries

What sort of criteria do you use in forming a personal library of DVDs?

Do you think a library like that is a waste of time, since you only need to see a movie once? Or do you think a personal copy of your favourites might be a fun thing on a rainy night? If you have children a library for them might make good sense as a way to reduce rental costs and keep them away from less savoury fare. DVDs might also be useful to you as training materials, for excersize of language training, perhaps.

I don't fall into any of those categories, but I do think a few good choices are fun to have around the house. Here are some of the things I think about before making a purchase.

First, since I think this is a very frivolous purchase, it has to be cheap. Usually that will mean previously viewed copies that sell for well under $20 Canadian. Around $10 is the sweet spot, if I can get it.

Then, it has to be a movie that I think has a much better than average chance that I will sit down and watch it again. This is where things begin to get tricky.

What will lead me to watch a movie more than once? Certain genres are dead in the water as far as I'm concerned. Teen age comedies and horror flicks are to be avoided like the plague. So are musicals, because I simply hate them. There are very few well made comedies, so I'm seldom drawn in that direction.

Drama is my bread and butter, and there are two things above all that will make a film leap out for me. One is that the story simply has to be good, and not trite. Oh look, here's another film about the false idol of marriage and life in America. ** Snork **, whatever. American Beauty would be a stellar example. Crash is a better vehicle for this kind of tale it but has so much swearing in it that I would not want it in my house. Action movies tend to have very weak stories and be vehicles for stunt-work and effects; as a result they bore me to tears. Stories don't have to be original. Look, there are only so many story forms. What it must do is make me willing to overlook - or, if it is very good - to temporarily lose sight of the form.

Anytime we're dealing with film and moving images, we also expect those images to be at the very least interesting. Ideally they will be arresting. That doesn't mean bloody, explosive or sexual. Those things tend to make me feel exploited as a viewer, as if somehow this was the only way I could be captivated and entertained.

I like a film to treat the screen like a canvas and to fill it with rich imagery of the sort that don't get to see a lot of in day to day life. I love historical settings, when attention is paid to the costumes and the details of day to day life in strange times and places. Memoirs of a Geisha, for example, is a rich film in this regard, and it also has a good story. Ridley Scott can usually be counted on to make stunning visual films. Kingdom of Heaven is gorgeous to look at, for example. The story isn't terrible but it isn't quite up to the level of the visuals. (The stills above are from a HD Kingdom of Heaven clip on the Apple website. I used Quicktime to capture them; clicking on them should give you the full image.)

It's probably my fondness for films that look good that prevents me from having much affection for older film, despite the fact that a lot of them have stories I might like. Most films before the 1970's have cameras that are too static. The look like they are filming a theatrical production, with the odd close up of an actor's face thrown in. And while I might be willing to overlook this flaw on occasion - for Alfred Hitchcock, for example - as a general rule the oldies are a wasteland.

Today's picks (it's not like I do this often) were:

Pride and Prejudice, the recent version with Kiera Knightly. This is a great story and gorgeous cinematography make this the one I was looking for for weeks. Finally got a copy today.

Walk the Line. I really enjoyed this one. The acting is very strong and the music is wonderful. I don't have a copy of Ray, but it's also one that I would consider.

An Unfinished Life. This one stars Robert Redford, Morgan Freeman and Jenifer Lopez. Rebecca and I saw it a while back and enjoyed the rustic life it portrayed, and the enduring friendship portrayed by Redford and Freeman. Lopez was ok.

The one the got away: Memoirs of a Geisha.

Still on the lookout and losing hope: Kingdom of Heaven.

Outside chances: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (best in the series thus far); Last of the Mohicans, and Minority Report. These just happen to available to me at the moment and since I didn't get them today, odds are I won't.

DVD gripe zone: Why do film makers insist on releasing DVD's that force you to sit through previews and ads? I'm just going to turn the sound down and make popcorn anyway. Idiots. The menu system exits for these kinds of things and you go and disable it so five years from now people will still be forced to find a way around your hopelessly dated ad.


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