Monday, March 5, 2012

DVDs at Big Lots = My Kind of Collection

The only use I've ever gotten out of the DVD aisles at Best Buy was last Thanksgiving Eve, when tents had sprouted next to the store in Valencia for Black Friday. In the ad of what was on sale, only valid until that evening I was there, I found that they were selling the DVD set of Married with Children: The Complete Series for $29.99. I despise the majority of those DVDs because Sony wasn't able to get the music rights to Frank Sinatra's "Love and Marriage" for the entire run of the series, so there's a crappy instrumental ditty in place of that, which has no relation to the twisted spirit of the show. "Love and Marriage" did because it was used ironically. I considered this for about 10 seconds and decided to buy it because first, it's never that cheap, and second, I'd rather have my favorite episode, season 7's "Movie Show," available to me whenever I want, and not only on the Tivo, where I had it until mid-January when I deleted it to make room for other shows.

Otherwise, Best Buy's DVD offerings are too slick for me. It doesn't have the feeling of discovering new movies to watch. There's no sense of excitement in seeing what they have. The same goes with Walmart, although it's a little more comfortable than Best Buy, but not by much. They've got those $5 DVD bins, which I've lately only found useful to skim the top, see what's there, dig a little bit below, and then give up. My last great find in one of those bins was Clerks II, nearly two years ago.

Yesterday afternoon, we went to Big Lots because for that day only: 20% off whatever you buy. Dad had collected five "20% off" coupons from school (Four for us and one extra in case we lost one), but it was apparently not needed because at the register, everything scanned 20% off. Dad wanted to find a well-fitting cell phone case, Mom and Meridith came to look around and see if there was anything I wanted, and I was of course there for the books and DVDs.

I love shopping for DVDs at Big Lots, even when I don't need them, even though I'm much more into books than DVDs now. But I still love movies. I always will, and eventually getting tired of writing reviews will never sour me on them.

At Big Lots, there's very few horror movies on DVD, which matches me, because I don't like horror movies, and I can submerge myself in memories by what I find. For example, there's still copies of Ringers: Lord of the Fans, of which I'm quoted on the front, the first and only DVD release by a major company that I was quoted on. I freaked out when I found that I was quoted on the front of the DVD box of the documentary Cinemania, my first one, but I'm especially proud of Ringers: Lord of the Fans, because I'd never, ever imagined being quoted on a Sony DVD release, and it kept to what I always hoped with being quoted on DVDs, that I would only be quoted on movies I passionately supported. That was one of them.

Big Lots also holds part of my own DVD collection. On one of the shelves of a four-sided display rack, I spotted Swing Vote, which I proudly own, and on one of the $5 two-sided display racks, I saw Brick, a modern-day high school-flavored film noir starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, that I bought again for my collection last year. But DVDs I wasn't even thinking of when I walked in are the ones that bring me further back in memory, and even further back still.

After I had an anxiety attack at a mall in Henderson in May 2010 that wasn't Galleria at Sunset (though I had one there too), brought on by being vastly overweight and having consumed far too much caffeine and not eating at all well while on that trip (Little sleep doesn't help either), I spent months over that summer not even trying to figure out what was wrong with me and what I needed to do to fix myself. I didn't even think of being overweight as being the trouble. Well, that and the caffeine. There were many, many days in which I watched endless hours of TV with no discernible goal toward anything. And I remember watching Star Trek: Generations on BBC America one Saturday in late summer, with no idea why. I had never been into Star Trek before, and I wonder if my brain had been twisted around during those anxiety attacks. Me and Star Trek? No. It didn't make any sense.

But I suppose it had to happen eventually. My favorite childhood movie was Flight of the Navigator, with that shiny, shape-shifting spaceship, and, living in Casselberry, we used to run out to the backyard whenever we heard on the radio that the space shuttle was lifting off, and it was so close to us that we could see clearly the American flag on the left wing, and "U.S.A." on the right.

During those listless months in which I felt like I was in a prison inside my head, I also watched a few episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, not paying much attention to them because neither my body nor my head felt right. I spent a lot of time in self-pity.

Late last year, I decided to try a few episodes of TNG again, and I like it. My answer to the question of Star Wars or Star Trek is Star Trek, because it seems to encompass an expansive universe that has a lot to explore. I also saw the new Star Trek movie when it was theaters, after going nuts over the trailer and watching it close to 70 times, and I loved it, so that must have triggered something.

I don't think I could ever be an out-and-out Trekkie, though, arguing the fine points of Star Trek lore, debating characters, loudly proclaiming a certain episode or movie to be the best one. I wander around in my own good time, seeing what I like, what more I want to explore.

I found Star Trek: Generations on DVD at Big Lots. $5. The last time we were at Big Lots, I found Star Trek: Insurrection and bought that, disappointed to find that the special collector's edition of Star Trek: First Contact was gone, which I was thinking of buying on the visit before the purchase of Insurrection, but decided to hold off until I learned more about the Star Trek universe. I should have snapped it up.

I seem to want to know more and more about science fiction now, especially in light of a time-travel idea I have for a novel. I want to explore these different worlds, see what fits me, and keep following that path. Star Trek might very well be one, and it's fortunate I found both those movies for cheap at Big Lots so there's no pricey regret if I decide not to keep them. I still regret not buying First Contact. $5 for that double-disc set was a lot better than $11.75 on Amazon. And I would have had it right away.

In one of the $5 racks, I found In the Line of Fire, which will forever have John Malkovich's creepy, disturbing performance as its main attraction. If the space shuttle launches and Flight of the Navigator were what propelled me to exploration of all things Star Trek, then there are so many explanations for why we are the way we are, in everything we do. In the Line of Fire has been with me since July 1993, when I was 9 years old. Every summer, my mom, my sister and I went every week to the morning summer movie program GCC Coral Square 8 had. I think admission cost a few dollars, but not as much as regular admission. I don't remember the movie we saw that week after In the Line of Fire, but when we walked out of the theater, I looked at the lighted paper sign between both doors of that theater, which had the In the Line of Fire logo to indicate that that's what was playing inside that theater, and I wondered what it was about. But since I was 9, and it was rated "R," there was no way I was going to be able to see it. I had no idea who John Malkovich was, then, and it was only after I saw him in Of Mice and Men in 10th grade English class, when he had become one of my favorite actors, that I finally saw In the Line of Fire. I really like it on its own merits, and I bought it at Big Lots for my collection.

I also bought That Championship Season (curious to see how another play is adapted into a movie), Lonely Hearts (Australian movie that I've always been curious about), Shaft (1971) (It may go into my collection because I admire how director Gordon Parks keeps everything street-level and real enough, a product of his masterful, stunning photography decades before), and That's Entertainment (I love the contrast of clips of beautifully-designed movie musicals, and introductions by actors against backdrops of a crumbling MGM that had already been sold at the time of filming), which went into my collection because I love a great many of those musical sequences.

I like Big Lots because it's open to everyone. Best Buy feels like you have to have at least $200 in your checking account and if you don't, all the flatscreen TVs are going to glare at you. Whereas in Big Lots, you just walk in, see what suits you, and most of the time, you'll find something you want. What you find feels like it had been waiting for you, like the diecast model of the presidential limo that I found for $9. There's always something there that is uniquely you.

How Will It Feel This Time?

I became a former film critic in 2009 because I was tired of the hamster-wheel feeling, such as Hollywood's release schedule, reliably awards contention-heavy at the end of the year, and the summer movie season having a lot of loud noise and empty vessels. That was only part of it, the other part being that as a member of the Online Film Critics Society, I had to participate in the year-end voting of which movies and actors and others we deemed to be the best of the year. We received awards screeners in the mail, and I always felt compelled to watch everything I got because I wanted to feel at least 10% well-informed, and I didn't review mainstream releases like other critics do, including attending press screenings. I did when I wrote for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel's now-defunct Teentime pages, but it was a novelty to me back then, just like receiving awards screeners were in my first and second years as a member of the OFCS. Back then, writing for Teentime, I wanted to be a full-time film critic some day.

In my third year of receiving awards screeners, I began to feel like I was on a hamster wheel. The same activities the same time every year. I was having some fun with it, but not as much as I should have if I was really into it. And there was no way to become a full-time film critic like Ebert or Anthony Lane of The New Yorker, or Josh Bell of Las Vegas Weekly, because those jobs weren't there anymore. Journalism had caved in on itself. There was no way to receive a paycheck and medical benefits for writing movie reviews. I didn't want it anymore anyway. I wanted to write books, to explore other topics that fascinate me, and then came What If They Lived?, with its crash course in research. And here I am now, working on my second book, and thinking of the books and novels and plays to come. This is what I want to do. This is where I belong. But what if I could review movies as I probably should have during those 10 years, not taking it as deadly serious as I did, and having more fun with it?

On Saturday, I received a message on Facebook from Rebecca Wright, who I talk with occasionally. She runs a DVD and Blu-Ray review site called Movie Gazette Online, posting links to her reviews on her Facebook account, which I see. I don't think a great deal about it because I've got my own work to do and I'm more deeply into books nowadays.

She asked if I wanted to contribute the occasional DVD review to her site, being that she gets a lot of DVDs and Blu-Rays now, and is adding more writers. She's read my past reviews, which I assume is why she contacted me.

I thought about it for a bit. I didn't want to get tied up in reviewing again. There was a lot of work to do for Film Threat, and I wasn't even getting paid for that. I wanted the experience and the clips so I could possibly parlay that into finding a full-time position as a film critic, which never happened. I'm not disappointed about that, since it led to What If They Lived?. But now, I'm busy writing books.

It might be good, though. Rebecca's site reminds me of the five reviews I wrote in 2005 for a site called The DVD Insider. I decided to be totally uninhibited in those reviews because I had nothing at stake. I looked at those reviews while I considered Rebecca's offer, and while the writing is embarassingly rough in spots, I clearly had fun writing those. That's what I should have been doing all 10 years, and also not putting all of my energy in those reviews like I did, because eventually, no one at Film Threat really did anything for me like I did for them, save for Phil Hall and my first book. That's what made it worth it.

Despite the Movie Gazette Online writer's agreement stating a requirement of 4-6 reviews per month, Rebecca told me that I could contribute as much or as little as I wanted. The number didn't matter, but she hoped I would feel comfortable enough to contribute something on a monthly basis. That's markedly different from the pressure I felt throughout those 10 years, pressure that I should have realized I was bringing on myself, but was too ambitious to notice.

There was another difference between this offer and my 10 years' worth of work: I'm not greedy anymore about DVDs. When I began writing for Film Threat, and requested DVDs from various PR firms while writing reviews of totally independent movies (Movies that not even the smallest label in Hollywood knew about), I was so impressed at just being able to get any DVD so easily. I overused this benefit with such zeal, that I got many DVDs every single day from UPS and FedEx and in the mail. The house filled up with them. Of course, where the DVDs used to be, books now reside, but I'm happier with the books.

I don't want DVDs anymore like I used to, so there's that benefit of writing for Movie Gazette Online. Plus, the site feels as comfortable as The DVD Insider was to me, and as if Rebecca wasn't already doing her best to try to reel me in, the writer's agreement states that "submissions must be 500-1,000 words." Oh god, what a relief! For me, it's like the hour or two I spent writing guest posts for Janie Junebug and Bloggerati, followed by careful, focused editing. Not only can I do this, I can use it as relaxation while working on my books! I can finally relax while writing reviews!

I accepted Rebecca's offer, promising her an up-to-150-word biography for my staff page, as well as signing up for an account on Gravatar, in order to produce a photo that can accompany my reviews. She then sent me press releases announcing forthcoming DVDs from Lionsgate and A&E, and told me to let her know if I wanted to review any of them.

The first press release announced Lionsgate's release of Gwyneth Paltrow, Nicole Kidman, and Renee Zellweger 4-Film Collections, coming out April 3. Re-releases of movies previously released on DVD, this time under the Lionsgate banner. I immediately scrolled down to the listing for the Renee Zellweger Collection, since she's one of my favorite actresses for various reasons (including being one of the leggiest actresses in Hollywood), and I had seen Bridget Jones's Diary and Chicago, both of which are included in this collection. Cold Mountain and New in Town are also here, neither of which I've seen, but I was already forming a review in my head, analyzing Zellweger's career choices, not how good or bad they are, but how she seems willing to do what other Hollywood actresses would probably be horrified about, such as the granny panties bit in Bridget Jones's Diary. She's adventurous, and willing to explore. I e-mailed Rebecca with my request, and it was done. This one's mine to review. And I think I want Chicago in my DVD collection again.

Next, a press release from A&E announcing its April releases. Rebecca sent me a separate e-mail with a list of DVDs she has right now, and not even Titanic: The Complete Story interested me. Quite different from when I also wrote reviews for NP2K, and was maniacally excited about the DVDs to be split up amongst us three reviewers. That was how I got the Clerks X DVD set that's in my collection next to Clerks II.

I scrolled through the A&E press release, stopping dead at The Presidents DVD set, which is merely being re-released in thinner packaging, but is still available for review. With my passion for the history of the presidency, this one's MINE! And Rebecca acknowledged it.

When I wrote for Screen It, Jim Judy, the owner, lived, and still does, in Germantown, Maryland. Rebecca lives in Vermont. I seem to have a great deal of luck with movie reviewers on the east coast from all the way over here. It's even more fortunate that I can write about what interests me, since I don't see movie reviewing as a potential future anymore. Renee Zellweger movies and an eight-part documentary about the presidents is an auspicious start. Plus, since I've ended my obsession with free DVDs, I have far less work to do now! I can finally have fun with this.