Friday, October 22, 2010

$3.99 DVD smackdown

Yesterday was my birthday, but on my lunch break, I found myself buying a card for someone else. It was a thank you card, and it was for my dad and his wife, who have been in town since Saturday meeting their grandson and step-grandson. They're leaving today.

The part of this story that's germane to movies is that the Walgreens where I was buying the card was having a sale on DVDs. A pretty good sale, I thought: $3.99 apiece.

Movies that make it into these sale bins are usually nothing you'd want to see. If you've even heard of the titles, they're things that are 15 to 20 years old, and were considered some of the biggest flops of those actors' or directors' careers. But not yesterday. Yesterday, there were some good pickins. In fact, so good, that when I decided to limit myself to just one, it was a tough choice. I was feeling celebratory enough to treat myself to a $3.99 movie on my birthday, but too fiscally conservative to treat myself to a second.

So, here were the contenders:

1) Shattered Glass (2003, Billy Ray)

For it: A fascinating study of the desperate measures a man will take while trying to cover his tracks. Shattered Glass is the true story of Stephen Glass (Hayden Christensen, at his career best), a former wunderkind writer for The New Republic who blatantly fabricated some or all of the details of stories he wrote for the magazine. When rival journalists pick holes in one of his stories, he goes to great lengths to try to retroactively support the existence of sources, events, even entire companies that never existed. It's thrilling and extremely well done.

Against it: Just watched it again about six months ago. When I buy a DVD, I like for it to be something I haven't seen in awhile, so there's at least the possibility that I'll watch it soon after buying it, even if I probably won't.

2) Away from Her (2006, Sarah Polley)

For it: A wrenching and heartbreaking story of a woman (the excellent Julie Christie) whose life radically changes after the sudden onset of Alzheimer's. Not only are the performances great (Gordon Pinsent is also terrific as the husband who is no longer recognizable to his wife), but it's an extremely impressive and mature debut for its director, Polley, who was only 27 at the time of the film's release, and is known to us primarily as an actress (Go, Splice).

Against it: Too depressing. Movies with heavy subject matter fall into that category of films that I may really love, but may also not feel the need to own. I consider Schindler's List one of the greatest films of all time, but I don't really want to own it.

3) The Lives of Others (2006, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck)

For it: An exquisite and moving portrait of East Germany under the Stasi, the secret police who monitored artists and other liberal thinkers for signs of political dissidence, told through the eyes of one of the most fervent pro-government surveillance experts (played by the terrific Ulrich Muhe, rest in peace). The ways in which his own world view crumbles are fascinating as this Stasi captain becomes moved by the lives of a playwright and his girlfriend. But even more impressive is his own cat-and-mouse game to avoid being suspected of losing his resolve by his own superiors and former ideological comrades.

Against it: Both copies of the DVD were emblazoned with a sticker that read "Previously Enjoyed," even though it was shrink-wrapped and in all other respects looked new. Even if I'm buying DVDs cheaply, I sometimes think they seem tainted if they're used, although it's a good way not to waste a perfectly good DVD.

So who came out on top?

Winner: The Lives of Others

Even though I have similar levels of affection for all three films, I decided that The Lives of Others was the one I most felt I needed to own. I've seen it only once, which gives it an advantage over Shattered Glass, and even though it's sad in parts, that's not the dominant mode of the film, which gives it an advantage over Away from Her. And at least the DVD looked new, so I felt I could ignore its pre-owned status.

Now I just have to figure out when I'll get to carve out the two hours and 18 minutes needed to watch it again.

So which would you have picked?

The Lives of Others ended up being only the first of three movies I received on my birthday. Here are the other two:

1) Toy Story (1995, John Lasseter). I currently have this classic film ranked #2 on Flickchart, meaning that I should at least own a DVD copy of it already. I owned it on VHS, but never quite found myself in a situation to upgrade to DVD. So yesterday's gift skipped the DVD step and went straight to BluRay, making this the official third BluRay in our new collection.

2) Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008, Darren Lynn Bousman). And then this became our fourth. Even though the friend who sent me this one sent it as kind of a joke, because he hated it, I didn't receive it in that way -- I actually really liked this film (which he knew), and watched it twice when I first rented it two Januarys ago. That means it's just about time for a third viewing.

Unfortunately, I didn't get my other birthday wish as stated in yesterday's post, the Texas Rangers beating the New York Yankees. But that's for me to whine about on a sports blog, not a movie blog.


Film Intel said...

Definitely the right choice in my opinion, that's the one I would have gone for. Just getting round to the point where I feel like I need to watch it again.

Vancetastic said...

Thanks FI. I felt good about the decision. I guess objectively, that's the most critically acclaimed of the bunch, but I have strong affection for the other two as well.

Simon said...

That's what I would've gone with. If I had known Walgreens sells DVDs now.

I got Broken Flowers for three bucks at a supermarket. Stranger DVD sales have happened.

And, holy shit, happy birthday!

Vancetastic said...

Simon, I'm quite disappointed that you missed my birthday. I was expecting a card and flowers. Shame on you.

Speaking of flowers, I need to see Broken Flowers again. At the time I saw it, the only thought that went through my head was "This is not Lost in Translation. This is not Lost in Translation." Maybe next time I'll try to see it on its own terms. I like it but I don't love it.

Anonymous said...

I went to walgreens today and noticed they had a whole rack of dvd's for $1.99. I bought five that said previously enjoyed,which meant two were out of the place holder in the dvd case with scrathces all around the cd, oh well. I never knew they sold used movies till today, does anyone know where walgreens gets there used dvd's from?

Vancetastic said...

No idea, but let me know if you find out!

Thanks for stopping in!