An Ode to the Video Store or Why the Death of Blockbuster Has Left Me Nostalgic

Video Tape DeathWhen I think about my childhood, I can’t help but remember frequent trips to the video rental store.  Browsing through wire racks of thick plastic display cases, I would make my way to my favorite tape and grab it like the warm hand of an old friend.  The newest releases only took up a small portion of the shelves, and the classics stood sentinel in their rows, familiar in their positions from week to week.  Movies traveled at a glacial pace from the theater to the store.  Disney still made hand drawn films and Don Bluth animation was better than anything DreamWorks ever dreamt up.

I’m saddened when I think that my daughter will never know that movie rentals come from anywhere other than an outdoor kiosk or a computer system.  Can you even get movies through the mail anymore?  She will never have the pleasure of browsing the local rental shop with friends before a sleepover or spending a happy summer hour contemplating the kids section for the oldie but goody she’s rented five times or the one she’s only rented four.  Redbox doesn’t stock classics.  If it’s not new, it’s gone.  Netflix won’t offer the same homey setup every time you view it or the chatter of the in-house TV showing The Land Before Time again.

Yes, with the end of Blockbuster comes the end of an era.  Video rental stores have gone the way of full-service gas stations and the five and dime.  They will be a sad piece of nostalgia we carry from our collective past, we children of the eighties and nineties and our parents.  I think of making those trips in search of entertainment with my daughter.  What will be our bi-weekly outings?  Certainly driving to Walgreens to find the Redbox won’t hold the same romance.  Trips to the Target five dollar DVD section?  Maybe.  Heck, I can’t even take her to Borders and say “old mom used to work here.” Now that is a whole other nostalgic-angst blog post waiting to happen.  I’d better quit while I’m ahead.  Oh, and I just want to give a shout out to Barb’s Video.  Yeah.  Those were the good old days.

P.S. Here’s a repost of a movie review that may ease our sufferings.  If nothing else, you can read the intro and see how attached I am to my video store memories.

Ghostbusters Jack Black

Be Kind Rewind

Or

Ghostbusters Will Never be the Same

A Film Review by Christie Hudon

Remember the golden age of mom and pop video rental stores?  Before the Blockbuster explosion I used to rent my tapes from Barb’s Video.  I loved walking into the familiar racks of the kids section and picking up one of my favorites-always in the same spot near the big white plastic Disney cases.  Sorry for digressing, but after seeing a video store featured on the big screen I’m kind of sentimental.  Be Kind Rewind, the latest from quirky filmmaker Michel Gondry is a nostalgia piece with an independent flair and a delightfully straightforward story.

Afterwards, I chatted with a fellow moviegoer who called the film an “off-beat comedy.”   I thought this was a perfect description. Be Kind Rewind is at times slapstick and other times sophisticated.  One moment you shake your head at the obvious plot device and the next you ponder the ambiguous ending.  It seemed crystal clear to me though that this was Gondry’s treatise on moviemaking.  You don’t need a budget worthy of a congressional bill, you need ingenuity.  We go to the movies to see creativity and heart and we appreciate those films.  I read between the lines and see the idea that the majority of what Hollywood has to offer has failed because they’ve forgotten this.

Be Kind Rewind is the story of Mr. Fletcher’s video store in Passaic, New York.  When Fletcher (played by Danny Glover) leaves town for the week and entrusts his store to his adopted son Mike (Mos Def) a disaster happens.  Mike’s bizarre friend Jerry (Jack Black) becomes magnetized (don’t ask, just watch) and erases all the tapes in Fletcher’s store.  In a desperate attempt to keep the customers happy, Mike decides to re-shoot the movies with the help of Jerry and a very old video camera.  What follows is a store full of strangely delighted customers and abridged homemade classics like The Lion King done with life-size paper cutouts and safari bed sheets.

One of several interesting aspects about Be Kind Rewind is the way the audience becomes involved in the making of the movie.  We see the remakes come to life with bad camera tricks, no sets or effects and minimal professional resources.  When we watch the creative process, the film becomes something more; a work that is compelling because of the efforts of those involved.

Along with all the camera gags, we also get a feel good story; in the middle of a poor neighborhood, people work together to make these films and save the store from being condemned and demolished.  Be Kind is a refreshingly enjoyable movie.  It makes you feel as if you could go out and shoot a film in your own garage and I think that’s just what Gondry intended. Be Kind Rewind Poster

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The Hobbit- A Film Review

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey … one embargo to bind them.When the film projector rolls and the sprawling vistas of Middle-Earth spill across the screen, it’s as if we’ve never left.  Yet, the opening sequence throws us into new settings that further the history of Tolkien’s kingdom.  The moment The Hobbit begins, we’re transported into the rich halls of the dwarves, the Mediterranean-esque town of Dale and the desolate country ravaged by Smaug the pillaging dragon.  Then finally, the familiar territory of Bag End in cozy old Hobbiton lets you exhale.

I don’t think I’ll need to convince that many readers to see The Hobbit.  Chances are you’ve made up your mind to see the next Tolkien epic from the moment Twitter feeds whispered of another film venture.  My job will be more like a travel guide as you trek back to Middle-Earth via Peter Jackson and his New Zealand crew.

For fans of the book, you will at times loathe and venerate this script like Smeagol and his alter ego Gollum.  Jackson is faithful to well, the journey and the back story of the dragon decimating the dwarven kingdom of Erebor.  Much of the dialog is taken directly from the text as well.  Having read the book several times I was prepared for changes and like Bilbo, just went along for the adventure.

In some ways, this film feels broader than the journey of the Fellowship, possibly because the Ringwraiths were so hot on the hairy hobbit feet that you barely had time to take in the scenery.  In The Hobbit, the pace is slow at first, and the green hills and forests become a character themselves as the company wends their way across Western Middle-Earth.

If the first quarter of the movie feels slower paced, Jackson must have thought he needed to make up for it in a hurry.  Once the first battle with trolls begins, the “out of the frying pan, into the fire” chapter title seems to fit the entire rest of the film.  From Goblins to multiple skirmishes with Orcs, the evil creatures are out in force; a prelude to the darkness creeping back into the world that will consume the Rings trilogy.  Throughout the film connections begin that pull these stories together such that the term prequel seems too basic.   This is not just a prehistory but a saga of its own (literally, thanks to Jackson stretching it to three films).  If you see the film in 3D, be ready for the gritty, almost tangible movement.  The film was shot in 48 frames per second so the effect is like a motion simulator ride at times.

As cheesy as the dwarves seemed in previews, in the film the camaraderie works, odd hair and all.  After the initial over-the-top introduction of the dwarven party, the group becomes an entertaining lot and you even start to recognize the thirteen as individuals with distinct personalities.  Richard Armitage, a surprisingly unknown powerhouse, owns the role of Thorin, the dwarf leader.  Another screen-stealer is Martin Freeman.  It’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role of Bilbo than this unassuming Brit.  Middle-Earth wouldn’t be complete without Ian McKellen as Gandalf, still as feisty a wizard as ever-if not more since this is ironically his younger self.   Aside from the dwarves, much of the cast is refurbished with added scenes of Galadriel and Saruman, Frodo and Bilbo the elder version.  Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy), the wizard with bird droppings in his hair was a character a little too quirky to enjoy, but his addition to the story will have purists reeling for another reason.  Movie buffs only will appreciate the explanation of the cryptic clues about the Necromancer.

I always look forward to the music of Middle-Earth, provided by Howard Shore.  The leitmotifs of each race are continued in The Hobbit, with the addition of the deep march of the dwarves.  Sadly, it felt a bit stale with only the dwarven melody, taken from their song of longing for the Lonely Mountain, as fresh sound material.  Snatches of Rings Trilogy music play throughout as if there was a simple cut and paste from the computer files.

It’s easy to take a fine tooth comb and pluck out all the additions to the text and the overwhelming similarities between the Rings film and The Hobbit but you’re still left with an amazing piece of artistry.  The digital and special effects that go into this franchise, the score and costumes, the attention to detail in every set make the movie beautiful to watch.  This film is exhilarating from beginning to end, either from the action or the delight of being back in the hobbit hole in Bag End.  Seeing young Bilbo stumble his way across battlefields and find a strange ring that changes the world is an everyman journey that resonates whether you’re a Tolkien geek or not.             Image