Archive for January, 2009|Monthly archive page

Bring back the DVD Movie Guide

The DVD Movie Guide is/was a fat book full of short film reviews, with ratings which range from Turkey (really really bad) to five stars. The formal purpose of the book was to help in the decision which movies to rent or buy, but it also served as an indispensable pool of film knowledge, especially thanks to its director/cast indexes, where you could look up who did what and with whom. This was especially helpful in the pre-Internet age, and here lies the rub.

After 22 years the DMG’s publisher, Random House, decided to discontinue the book, citing the internet as the main reason for that. The logic behind it was that since we can find all film information on the net, nobody needs this book anymore. Right?

Wrong.

The DMG was a special book. I’ve been buying and reading it since 1993, when it was still called Video Movie guide. What made the DMG great wasn’t the indexes – those did lose their relevance in the age of IMDB, although it’s still fun to check them out just sitting on a couch with the book at hand, and I still do it from time to time with my old copies – No, the reason was pretty simple: The reviews.

The DVD Movie Guide was always a no-nonsense, down to earth, film review book, with honest, insightful and sometimes damn funny – reviews. While other film reference tomes of its kind, most famous being the Leonard Maltin guide, mainly review films from a critical, even snobbish point of view, what made the DMG special was it being a movie review book by moviegoers for moviegoers. By saying that I don’t mean that the reviews were written lazily or information was partial and wrong, I’m saying the entire approach in reviewing films was that all films no matter their genre, no matter who made them, no matter their subject matter, all deserved a fair chance. What made this book close to my heart was the almost perfect synch it had with my taste. I rarely go wrong by watching a film recommended by this book. that’s not to say that it was always prefect (you can’t honestly except a 100 percent anywhere in life). Few films which received five starts weren’t that perfect in my eyes, and  some films which got two starts deserved better, I thought (that’s where the “guilty pleasure” discussion comes in. On the other hand, a turkey is almost always a turkey). But for the most part I almost always agreed with their reviews.

There are so many movies out there, so when you find a reliable film guide you should hold on to it and treasure it. It becomes your best friend. It helps you separate the good from the bad and it helps you save time. And one more thing, perhaps the most important: What the DMG or any self-respecting film guide does best is not to tell you Casablanca is good and Ishtar is bad. You knew that already. What it needs to do is help you DISCOVER those films you never heard of or thought they were lousy just because of  prejudice or because you didn’t like the poster or the trailer. Not too long ago I persuaded friends to watch the wonderful Hot Fuzz. They weren’t too enthusiastic about it at the beginning. They never heard of the film before and the DVD art looked tacky. They thought it’s just a moronic comedy. Instead they discovered a clever, hilarious spoof of American action films and British rural mysteries. And that’s what DMG has done for me time and time again. Helped me discover those gems that I never heard of or didn’t much care for.

The DMG was edited and partially written by Mick Martin and Marsha Porter. They were assisted by a hardy group of film reviewers. (just like the Maltin guide. Although his face is on the cover, he cannot review everything by himself ). So it’s amazing that DMG managed to stay so consistent over the years. That’s what I call great editing, and the kudos here go to Mick and Marsha.

I had a short e-mail correspondence with Mick Martin where he explained to me what happened. DMG was discontinued on September 2006, right around the time when the last edition was published. He and Marsha tried their best to find another publisher but to no avail. DMG has its fans. People want it back. The decision to cancel it, while Maltin’s and other yearly review books keep being published is a real shame.

They’ve cancelled the best film reference book out there.

I don’t know if there was decline in sales. I don’t know if it’s for other reasons. I just know that the reason Random House gave Mick Martin was “because you can get it for free on the Internet”. I’m a heavy Internet user. I spend a lot of hours on-line, whether it’s at work or at home, and unless you’re a webmaster and that’s your job, I don’t think anyone ruins his posture in front of a computer more than I do. And if I’m ready to keep buying the DMG than I can’t imagine anyone else not doing the same thing.

“You can’t stop progress”, someone might say. “Books are a way of the past”, someone else might add. Well, screw that. (Yeah, I’m talking to you, Kindle).

DMG writers used to do something unique (at least as far as I know): Although it was extremely rare, from time to time they used to change a movie’s rating, their reasons being because times change, points of view change, or maybe a “movie just caught us on a bad day”. It’s a remarkably humble statement for a “critical” reference book.

Too bad Random House won’t do the same for them.

Any other publisher out there? Come on, people.

We’ll give you five stars,

No flying cars

2009 is here, and there are still no flying cars to be found anywhere. How disappointing. Other than that, things are par-for-the-course for the human race. You’ve probably heard about all of it already. Economy in depression, first black president etc etc. (Go Obama).

Sadly, everything is also par-for-the-course in my homeland, where Israelis and Palestinians have welcomed the new year with a new mini-war.  We bombard them with big missiles and they respond with small but persistent missiles. (they started it though. The whole thing is very childish in essence). Half a million Israelis are in the line of fire, including members of my family. I wish I was wrong, but I do believe there is no real military solution for this unending conflict. Israel’s greatest military triumphs were always when it was the underdog, attacked by two or three armies, significantly outnumbered. As in the War Of Independence and the Six Day War. On the other hand, whenever it was the big and strong IDF against terrorists, the result was usually bloody and frustrating without real victories achieved. That is because an army is ill-equipped to handle guerrilla warfare, as history showed us again and again.
The same goes for the current round of blows. Although we are fighting a vicious terrorist organization hiding among innocent civilians, the mere fact that we attack it with fighter airplanes immediately puts it in the underdog position, which is just plain wrong. The solution should and must come through political and international channels and the only way this could ever happen is if we’ll have brave politicians from both sides who will truly want this mayhem to stop.
Don’t hold your breath, though.

I sure yearn for the age of the flying car. For me, it was always a representation of a smoother, utopian future. Huge skyscrapers towering and the sun is setting behind them, and streamlined, silent, flying cars swish between them like graceful ballerinas. But I’ve come to accept reality. It’s more likely that we won’t have cars at all in the future than flying cars. And hey, I’m pro-environment, so there.

In a screenplay I’m working on right now, which takes places in the early years of the 22nd century, there are no flying cars to be found at all. Instead, I’ve extrapolated on the future use of cell phones, the Internet and first aid kits. Oh, and nobody wears glasses anymore. But flying cars? Give me a break. It’s not safe anyway. How is that supposed to work? will we have lanes and exits in midair? Just think of the headache that will cause people living in penthouses. You live on the 80th floor and there’s a traffic jam outside your window. Ouch.

It makes me sad that Israel is the only democracy in the world which still has military conflicts at its borders on a regular basis, with direct influence on civilian population. Sure, the US, along with other western nations, is engaged in a conflict in Iraq, but those wars aren’t fought in the US or Canada or the UK or France. People don’t need to go to shelters. As a result, and although Israel is one of the leading nations in cutting edge scientific research in the world  – if you were an alien landing here and you watched the media the immediate impression you would get about Israel is that while the other nations’ attention is spent on things like global warming and recycling and stem cell research, and, well, cutting-edge science, Israel is still knee deep in war and destruction, like time just froze for us back in the 1970’s. What’s the solution? there’s no easy solution. It’s just the way things are, and it’s not looking like they’re going to change soon.

Would that same hypothetical alien be surprised to find out people are not using flying cars in the 21st century like they do on his home planet? Maybe. Maybe not. What will he report back to his Mother Ship when landing here on  the morning of the first day of 2009? I think it will go something like this:

“Have initiated first contact with a peculiar life form. Its speech is slurred and its vomiting all the time. It keeps saying something that sounds like  “hangover”. All in all, it doesn’t look too impressive. Apparently it thinks its imagining me. How very peculiar. And insulting, I might add.” And then he will just swish away in his small aircraft and mutter to himself about setting his expectations too high.

Join the club, brother.