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User guide to films, our reviews, our columns

By Philip Martin

This article was published April 6, 2012 at 2:47 a.m.

— Some of you have already figured out that I review a lot of DVDs. One of the recurring features of this section is a column called Home Movies, which is comprised of short reviews of recently released DVDs.

When there’s no room at the inn - which seems to happen with some regularity these days - I post that column on the blood, dirt & angels website. The Home Movies column is the first thing I cut when I’ve got to cut something, in part because it works very well on the Internet, where the text can be complemented with video clips. (The second thing I cut is this column, because it’s also easily transferable to the Web, or to my Critical Mass column that runs in the Sunday Style section.)

If you’re reading this in Northwest Arkansas, you should understand that we publish a slightly different edition of Movie Style in your neck of the woods - we try (and almost always succeed) in not running reviews of movies that are opening in Little Rock but aren’t opening in your area. (Since in a typical week more movies open in central Arkansas than in Northwest, there’s typically more room in our Northwest edition for the Home Movies column. So sometimes it’s on the blog and in Northwest Movie Style.)

Anyway, I think Home Movies is pretty important because that’s the way most people watch movies these days - in their homes, on screens that they own. And while people like me still think of movies as things that we see in public, sitting among strangers in the dark, the truth is most of us are becoming more platform neutral - i.e., we don’t have any inherent bias against watching “a movie” on a TV, a computer monitor or a mobile device. My new iPad has a great screen for watching movies.

But one of the problems with writing about home video is that there’s so much of it.

Even this week, when I’ve decided not to run the Home Movies column because there are only a few new DVD releases I’m prepared to review (We Bought a Zoo, War Horse and The Double Hour - and I’ll get to them next week), the Videoeta website (, which is the closest thing I’ve found to a definite source for home video releases, lists 99 titles coming out this week. And I know they didn’t get all of them - for instance they make no mention of what may be the biggest release of this week - Paramount’s first-ever Blu-ray release of Chinatown (which I wrote about on the blog this week).

Now a lot of these releases admittedly aren’t fodder for the Home Movies column - I tend to write about movies that had a theatrical release or at least played in film festivals in the column. Our Jennifer Nixon does a wonderful job with repackaged TV series in our Sunday Style section. So I don’t worry about titles such as Danny Phantom: Season 2, Part 1 or Designing Women:The Complete Sixth Season in Home Movies (though I may write about them on the blog) because they’re obviously not movies.

But I will write about movies that didn’t get much attention when they were in theaters, such as Chasing Madoff (which I own but haven’t screened yet) and low-budget, genre films when they a) seem interesting to me or b) seem to have somehow captured a cult audience.

But what I really like about the Home Movies column is that it often affords me a chance to review a movie that I didn’t get to review when it was released theatrically. Lots of big-studio films open in Arkansas without submitting themselves for my approval. Home Movies gives me a chance to review films I missed the first time around.For instance, when Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol comes out on DVD in a couple of weeks, I’ll finally get a chance to write about it. Same goes for The Hunger Games.

And because of that, there’s not always a perfect correlation between the grades a film is assigned when a review runs in Movie Style and what it gets when it comes out on DVD. I’m not a huge fan of the grades anyway (were it strictly my call I’d probably ditch them, though I recognize they have a certain utility) and I’m certainly not going to be bound by a score that was based on a review written by someone other than myself. And that’s why, if a film hits DVD while it’s still playing in area theaters - and therefore represented by a capsule review in our Film Clips - the grade in the Home Movies column might be different from the grade in Film Clips.

Home Movies is my opinion - while the grades in Film Clips represent what the review we ran in the newspaper said about a movie.

I also suppose I could change my mind about a film, and that might lead me to change the grade on a film I’ve reviewed. I don’t know that I’ve done that yet, but I might.

In any event, I think it’s important to recognize that the very definition of movies is changing, and that there’s a dithering of the lines between what we used to think of as movies and what we used to think of as television. In a couple of weeks I’ll be at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York, which is one of the pioneers of Video-on-Demand releases. If I didn’t have this job - and the steady flow of DVD releases (and Internet streams) that go along with it - I would probably be a heavy Netflix user. And the 21st century has seen the flowering of a new kind of novelistic television series - shows like The Sopranos and Deadwood, The Wire and Game of Thrones, Mad Men and The Killing - have seized the artistic high ground from the movie studios.

For now, it’s convenient to think of a movie as an event that arrives in town, but I’m not sure we ought to privilege the show we have to go see over the one we beam onto one or another of our myriad screens.


MovieStyle, Pages 31 on 04/06/2012

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