Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Perhaps you can help me

I used to watch too much television.

When we first moved to this remote part of Wales, oh so many years ago, we soon discovered that terrestrial broadcasting didn't reach well into the valleys. The BBC appeared in a permanent blizzard, ITV was sometimes there and sometimes not. Channel Four had been obliterated completely, replaced by something the locals called 'ess pedwar eck'*, which showed unintelligible programs populated by people speaking gibberish.** Only Channel Five came through strong and clear, which was almost a slap in the face, really.

So we took the plunge, the Horse Doctor and I, and signed up for the cheapest package from Sky. A little man came out and nailed a dish to our wall, guddled around at the back of the telly, and soon we had crystal clear viewing. And more channels than I could begin to comprehend. Including one allegedly dedicated to SF. Hooray!

We'd had the service for maybe a couple of months when I got the call. Would we like to upgrade? There was a special deal. Try it for a month, if you don't like it, you can always go back. Oh, they know their marketing, Sky. Hook them with a series of good movies, then squeeze them for all the cash you can get.

Still, I'll try anything once,*** and at the time I was earning a reasonable wage. I signed up for an extended package at half price for three months.

The first time, I even cancelled it at the end of the free period, but it was the start of a slippery slope. There was so much choice. OK, so it was all crap, and they were still showing those same films a year on, but the Horse Doctor liked the sport,**** and I found a kind of masochistic pleasure in seeking out those really obscure Dean Cain movies. It wasn't long before we found ourselves subscribing to the full whack, at an eye-watering £42.50 a month ($77 US, $87 CAN). Everything that Mr Murdoch could beam into our little cottage, we consumed with all the cultural discernment of a glutton in a fast food joint.

I wanted to break the habit, but I knew that going back to four channels of snow and one of late night soft porn would be impossible. Then someone told me that the satellite receiver would still show the free to air channels even if I didn't subscribe to Sky. It would be hard living without Dean, and the Horse Doctor would be grumpy without her cricket and rugby, but we might just manage after all.

The final push came when we found a plot to build our dream house on. The money was going to be tight, and I had every intention of spending all my spare time working on the site, not sitting in front of the telly. So we finally said goodbye to the dirty digger something over a year ago.

As it turns out, Ess Pedwar Eck shows rugby almost continuously, so the Horse Doctor's happy. The only thing missing was a steady supply of crap movies, and Amazon DVD rental came to the rescue there. For a small monthly outlay, I get supplied with an endless stream of pap surrounding the occasional gem.

But there is a problem, as ever, and I look to both of you loyal blog readers to help me out. My DVD rental list currently has only five titles on it, and three of them haven't even been released yet. My taste in movies is quite catholic - perhaps the only thing I tend to avoid altogether is slasher movies (I just don't get why anyone wants to watch people being hacked to pieces; it's so messy). I'm a big fan of SF, and the occasional mindless action film helps to slow down my brain when it's going too fast. Romances and romantic comedies generally leave me cold, and period drama has to be very well done or I lose interest quickly.

As an illustration, the last few movies I've rented have been the following (in no particular order):

**** updated as per Sandra's recommendation ****

Mirrormask - well worth it
The Libertine - It's got Johnny Depp in it
Walk the Line - OK - good music
Brokeback Mountain - not sure what all the fuss was about. They're not even cowboys
Elektra - Not as shite as they said it was. Definitely for comic book fans, though.
Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events - what a wasted opportunity. Someone please shoot Jim Carey
The Brothers Grimm - likewise. OK, it's not got Jim Carey in it, but shoot him anyway.
Howl's Moving Castle - well worth it. I'd love to see this on the big screen. But a really annoying plot dump at the end
Sideways - slow, but enjoyable
Alexander - confused and confusing
Tim Burton's Corpse Bride - wonderful, but why 'Tim Burton's'?
The Curse of the Were Rabbit - excellent
The Manchurian Candidate (Johnathan Demme's recent remake) - worth it only for the Robyn Hitchcock cameo
Sahara - mindless fun
National Treasure - even more mindless fun, and with Nicholas Cage too
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Tim Burton's version) - better than the Gene Wilder version
The Island - idiotic sf rubbish
Robots - I warmed to this as it went on.
House of Flying Daggers - Beautifully shot but ultimately unsatisfying
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - best not spoken of again
The Chronicles of Narnia - disappointing
The Aviator - dull

(it should be added that these are my feelings about these movies - feel free to disagree, but please do it on your own time.)

Some of these have even been worth the money, though a lot haven't. One of the great benefits of DVD rental is that, at around £2 a time, I don't feel too desperately sad if a movie turns out to be well basted, stuffed with sausagemeat and sage and onion and roasted at a medium heat for several hours. Gobble, gobble.

What I need is recommendations. They don't have to be recent releases, certainly don't have to be mainstream. I get a few TV series too, since we no longer get Sky and it will be decades before things like Battlestar Galactica or Stargate come to the BBC. But I need to get my rental list up to about twenty titles.

Any ideas?

* or S4C - Welsh Channel Four (Sianel 4 Cymru)
** it's a fringe world dialect.

*** except that. Shame on you for even thinking it.
**** I know it's weird. She likes the sport, I can't stand it. I like movies, she thinks they're a waste of time. It's a marvel we've stayed together this long.


Blogger Sandra Ruttan said...

It would help to know which off the list you thought were worth the money - better chance of recommending something to your taste. I actually plan to blog tomorrow in part on my impressions of Frailty. Have you seen it?

June 28, 2006 7:48 pm  
Blogger JamesO said...

No, I've not seen it. A quick look on Amazon and it looks good enough to add to the list - thanks.

I'll also update my own list with clunkers and shiners.

June 28, 2006 8:04 pm  
Blogger Vincent said...

I bought Mirrormask on DVD (in a pack with The Dark Crystal (muppets being serious - not wholly a good thing) and Labyrinth (Jennifer Connelly, always a good thing)), but haven't watched it yet, so good to hear another recommend.

If you haven't already seen Hayao Miyazaki's other films, then do so. Pronto. Disney have pretty much released the whole back catalogue now and while Howl is utterly charming (despite that scene of exposition at the end), it's not as good as 'Spirited Away' or 'My Neighbour Totoro', not as political as 'Princess Mononoke', not as adventuresome as 'Castle in the Sky'... Heck, they're all worth watching, even Miyazaki on a bad day is better than most other filmmakers.

Okay, Miyazaki spiel over. If you're into sci-fi, I expect you've seen 'Dark City', but if not, another must-see. While I thought it was good first time, it has improved with repeated viewings. 'Cypher', low-budget, sci-fi-ish, but with bags of style and a story that not only leaves you asking questions, but delivers answers that satisfy (comes from the director of 'Cube', which I've also heard is quite good).

For weirdness, go French. Jeunet and Caro; 'Delicatessen' and 'City of Lost Children'. Brilliant. Weirder still, Japan's 'FLCL', but Amazon don't stock the DVDs. They do have 'Cowboy Bebop' though, perhaps the best sci-fi anime TV series and not blighted by the genre's predeliction toward crap plots, crap philosophising and giant robots (which aren't crap, but are often used as a crutch for the crap plots and crap philosophising). The 'Cowboy Bebop' movie is quality too.

No other sci-fi stuff spring to mind, but some old flicks are worth catching too: Charade, Rififi, Casablanca, classic Hitchcock. Offbeat: Zero Effect, The Spanish Prisoner, Run Lola Run, Brotherhood of the Wolf, Heathers...

In fact, seeing as I own most of the above on video or DVD, I'd be happy to lend them and some of my collection you can have! For free! Because I don't know why I've got them. Dante's Peak, Jurassic Park: The Lost World, City of Angels, etc. (blame Britannia Video Club).

June 28, 2006 9:34 pm  
Blogger JamesO said...

Lots of food for thought, thanks Vincent. I've seen some, but not all of Miyazaki's films - definitely worth seeing what's available now. Dark City was just about strange enough that I might well try it again, hadn't heard of Cypher, coudn't get into Cube.

The French do make excellent weird movies. I loved Diva and there's a bunch of other ones I can't remember the names of right now. I've been on a bit of a French boycott for a while now, because they won't buy our beef, but maybe I'm just cutting off my nose to spite my face there.

I probably should revisit the classics too - I've never been much of a one for watching things over and over, but there's some odd films out there I'd like to see again, if I could just remember what they were called.

And thanks for the kind offer, but I can live without seeing Dante's Peak, Jurassic Park etc. again. They're good for switching the mind off, but the effect stops working after you've seen them a couple of times.

June 28, 2006 10:07 pm  
Blogger Sandra Ruttan said...

We've got Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Syriana up on our viewing list, with the long weekend we might just watch them too.

I'll let you know. I find movies so subjective. Even with friends, I'd rather advocate for going to a movie I've seen and liked than suggest a movie I haven't seen, in case it bombs.

I thought Dante's Peak was predictable and dull, but I think action movies tend to be that way. You've got to have a good character to sustain you.

June 29, 2006 7:13 pm  
Anonymous sprite said...

You might try The Triplets of Belleville, which is quirky. You might also look for the first seasons of Lost and Firefly (as well as its accompanying movie), which my sci-fi-fan friends seem to enjoy. And Good Night and Good Luck topped my 2005 list and has stood up to repeat viewings. It is a period piece and very U.S.-politics centric, but I suspect it would translate to a U.K. audience without too much difficulty.

June 30, 2006 3:15 pm  
Blogger JamesO said...

When it comes to action movies, they need to be mindless, which makes them pretty dull - but they're ideal for those times when you just need to switch off the brain. You want some characterisation, but I'd rather the movie gave me a well-crafted stereotype than try to upload too much information; that's not what I'm watching it for.

Sprite, thanks for the ideas. I've not heard of Triplets, so I'll have to look it up. As a self-confessed Joss Whedon fan, I've already got Firefly and Serenity on DVD - it's criminal that they axed that show. I'm waiting impatiently for his big-screen take on Wonder Woman.

Good Night and Good Luck was one of the three movies on my list not yet released. I think it's due next week over here.

June 30, 2006 4:14 pm  

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