Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
With my Cinema Monolith movie tower now overflowing with DVDs and Blu-rays, and with just about every film I’ve ever wanted to own on disc now part of the collection, and with my financial situation in ‘careful mode’ due my current between-jobs sabbatical, in January I made the decision to stop purchasing movies for good, and instead be content with the 1,000-plus I already owned. Which, if I were to watch one per week (my schedule before I went on my extended vacation), would take me nearly 25 years to get through.
So with that in mind, I made my final slew of purchases in January, picking up the remaining few I was still eager to own, plus a couple more I ended up discovering along the way. What follows is a breakdown of the final thirteen I picked up during this time…one last haul before I put my hard-earned cash to better use—groceries, bills, bike repair, occasional trips to Barro’s Pizza—and re-organize the tower for the last time.
The first of these acquisitions actually took place on New Year’s Eve of 2018, when I foolishly assumed December would be my last month of movie purchases. I’d first seen The Virgin Spring twenty years ago, and had wanted to own it ever since…my favorite film from Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, and one of the more emotionally powerful films I’d ever seen. But I could never afford the Criterion cost, especially when it finally arrived on Blu-ray. But that night, as I sat at my computer contemplating which movie would be my so-called last, I remembered this one, and after checking eBay, found a brand-new Blu-ray copy going for less than half the retail price…just $17.99! A cool find, with a new 2K restoration, a handful of bonus features, and a 20-page booklet inside.
I’d recently watched the original Star Trek movie for the first time in decades, and realized I hadn’t watched the original television series since 1988, when I’d first moved to Arizona and would watch an episode every weeknight at 10:00 on a local station. I remembered hearing years ago that the entire 3-season run had been cleaned up for DVD, with new effects and CGI improvements made to replace the more basic 1960s effects and backdrops we’d been seeing for years. So in early January, when I went online to read the reviews for these improved sets, and what they cost, I was flabbergasted to find that, though highly regarded, the Blu-ray seasons retailed for an outrageous $129 each! But that was 2008…what did they go for now? How about $8.99 for Season 1 and $14.99 for Season 2? I quickly grabbed those two sets off eBay (I wasn’t interested—yet—in Season 3), and trust me when I say, after watching five episodes, these improvements—along with the restored prints—look awesome.
For my birthday in January, my friend Doug gave me a gift of a Blu-ray release of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, the 1962 camp classic starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, which I’d never seen before. He’d seen it back in high school, and remembered it being quite different, and even a bit bizarre, so of course he thought of me and figured I might get a kick out of it, too. He also liked the quotable dialogue, and the fact that the two stars hated each other during filming, so with all that going for it, I can’t imagine why I wouldn’t get a kick out of it. And for those eagle-eyed readers who’ve noticed the UK 12 rating on the box, and wondered if a foreign disc can be played here in the US, never fear: this one’s region-free, and can be played anywhere!
Towards the end of the month I began choosing which DVDs and Blu-rays I was going to pick for my final purchase from Amazon, and this was the first. Of course I’ve seen this sci-fi adventure many times before, but I’d forgotten how much fun it was until watching it on TV several years ago, and a recent review by my blogging friend Mikey over at Wolfmans Cult Film Club convinced me I needed to add this to the Monolith. And imagine my elation when I found the Blu-ray available for a mere $5.99, AND it was loaded with a bunch of bonus features, AND an on-line technical review stated, “Fantastic Voyage easily ranks among the most gorgeous films on Blu-ray.” All for six measly bucks! So yes, it immediately went into my shopping cart. I mean, seriously, who wouldn’t want to see Raquel Welch in high-def?
This time I had two blogging friends offer a recommendation, Mike over at Mike’s Take on the Movies and Lindsey at The Motion Pictures, for the Mario Bava-directed ‘not-really-vampires’ space classic Planet of the Vampires. But even if I hadn’t been influenced by their reviews, I think I would’ve bought this disc simply for the outstanding poster artwork on the case cover…a poster, by the way, that I’m still wanting framed and hanging on my wall. Both Mike and Lindsey praised the set design, art direction, and Bava’s use of colors, all of which had me eager to watch, and all of which should look great on Blu-ray. I’m really looking forward to this one…it sounds like a whole mess of cheeky sci-fi fun, and of course, I’m also excited about the handful of extras that are included as well.
My friend Dave at work had told me about a more recent, updated cut of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and since I didn’t recall liking the original version all that much, I thought I’d give this new version a try. But first, I borrowed the original on Blu-ray from the library…and was surprised how much I enjoyed it. I also appreciated the care and thought that went into the Blu-ray extras and interactive menu designs, so when I watched the newer cut on DVD, I don’t know if I was disappointed in the updated effects and trimming of scenes, or the fact that the picture wasn’t as sharp and vibrant as the Blu-ray, or maybe a combination of both. I then borrowed Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan on Blu-ray, and really really liked it. And again, the look of the film and the quantity and quality of extras were simply outstanding. So I skipped renting The Search for Spock and decided instead to just buy all three films, so I could enjoy them and the bonus features at my leisure. Which is what I did. (And in case you’re wondering, no, I don’t like the final three films in the series, at all).
I’ve been a fan of—and perhaps madly in love with—Diana Rigg ever since I saw her in the Bond film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service many years ago, yet for whatever reason I’ve never tried to watch episodes of her British espionage TV series, The Avengers, even though I knew they existed. That is until recently, when I happened upon a YouTube video featuring various clips of her sweet, cute self as Emma Peel, set to the Robert Palmer song ‘Simply Irresistible’. I was instantly hooked (or re-hooked), and when I discovered there were actually two other actresses involved in the series, I wondered if there was something like an ‘Emma-only’ set to be had. Lo and behold, there was…all 51 of her episodes, spanning three seasons and stretched over 16 DVD discs! Surely I can’t afford this set, said I, until I saw on Amazon: retail $50, on sale for $23! Did I grab it and place my order immediately? YES I DID!
Remember when I wrote that article about the Criterion $1 Sale? Well, apparently I wasn’t kidding: when I wondered into a local thrift store back in January, on the lookout for an old Jaws paperback, I noticed a thick DVD case nestled in with all the current, mass-market movies: a 2-disc Criterion Collection DVD of the Polish film The Double Life of Veronique, looking like it was in mint condition! How it came to be trapped in a discount shop is a mystery, but I’m guessing many a consumer passed this one by to get at the scratched-up copies of Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle and Christmas with the Kranks. I’ve never seen this film, and I have no idea what it’s about, but for a grand total of $1.61, I could not—nor would I allow myself—to pass up such an opportunity.
Hold on, that looks an awful lot like a VHS copy of a Clint Eastwood movie…and guess what, it most certainly is! Doug and I were at an antique mall checking things out one Saturday afternoon, and in a display case I found a small collection of VHS movies for sale, all looking in very good condition. One of them was, of course, The Outlaw Josey Wales, my favorite Eastwood movie of all time, and since I have everything in my personal movie collection from Beta tapes to Laserdiscs to HD-DVDs, I thought this would be a good addition. Only…I didn’t buy it while we were there, and regretted not doing so for days afterwards. So, one week later, I hopped on my bike and made the 10-mile trek back to the mall, hoping the video was still available…and it was. But was it outrageously priced? Nope…just one thin dollar! And yes, the movie and the box that contained it were both in mint condition; stupidly, however, the transparent tape the employees used to attach the price label was sticky as hell, and it literally took me a half-hour to slooooowly peel it off, to prevent any of the box art being peeled off with it. But hey, it worked.
And finally, the last of the Monolith hauls: a Blu-ray copy of American Graffiti, the George Lucas love letter to his days cruising the streets of Modesto, California as a teenager. Again, this was another film I haven’t seen in years, and remembered hardly anything about it. But after watching Smokey and the Bandit one night, I checked out a short documentary included on the disc titled 100 Years of Universal: The ’70s, and one of the handful of movies they looked at was this one. Suddenly, I really wanted to watch this film again: the stars, the time period depicted, the wonderful look of the Blu-ray print, and just the overall feel-good tone of the story. And once again, I scored a good deal: a seller on eBay had a new copy for $7, though with an unfortunate new ‘pop art’ cover. But for just seven bucks, I’ll survive.
Well, that’s it: the last thirteen DVDs and Blu-rays—and stray VHS—that will ever find a home on the Monolith. Of course, I’ve said to myself many times before that “this purchase will be my last,” and it never is, but this time I really think I’m done. I now have everything I need, and at the very least, if an outstanding, extras-laden Blu-ray is released that would take the place of a bare-bones DVD movie I already own, I may consider making the switch.
And if you’ve made it this far, and aren’t annoyed with me for taking up a valuable portion of your day with such a long post, let me know your thoughts on any or all of these additions to the Monolith. Have you seen any of the updated Star Trek television episodes? Was $1.61 too much to spend on The Double Life of Veronique? Should I have bought more selections from that case full of one-dollar VHS movies? Or maybe I should just ignore my decree, purchase a second Monolith, and start adding to it immediately.