The Exiles

Kent MacKen­zie’s film The Exiles is like watch­ing Ger­many Year Zero set in L.A. The film tells the sto­ry of a hand­ful of Native Amer­i­cans who’ve moved to Los Ange­les. Like Charles Bur­net­t’s Killer of Sheep, also released by Mile­stone Films, it shows anoth­er Los Ange­les, stripped of the glitz and glam­or.

Think Cas­savetes’ Shad­ows star­ring a cast of Native Amer­i­cans who are strug­gling to find a way to fit into a soci­ety that’s locked them out. This isn’t a bunch of beat­niks who feel them­selves apart from the main­stream; this is a film about peo­ple who live par­al­lel lives.

It’s amaz­ing to see movies from this peri­od shot in a neo­re­al­ist style. Not only do you get a great sense of the char­ac­ters in con­text, you get to see the city as it is. The streetscapes are as grit­ty as any­thing in a Hol­ly­wood noir. It’s an amaz­ing glimpse into a world almost com­plete­ly ignored in film. Def­i­nite­ly worth check­ing out.


Food Inc.

Want a sure­fire way to bum your­self out on New Year’s Eve? Watch Food Inc.

I’ve scaled back the num­ber of mind-numb­ing­ly depress­ing doc­u­men­taries I’ve watched in the past few years. Too many of them tread the same ter­ri­to­ry, preach to the choir, and fall far short of inform­ing the broad­er pub­lic of the issues at hand. Food Inc. isn’t one of them.

This is a great doc­u­men­tary for any­one who wants to get a basic under­stand­ing of what’s hap­pen­ing in Amer­i­can food pol­i­cy. Let me put it this way: if Upton Sin­clair would­n’t have words to describe the state of the food indus­try. It’s that bad. I def­i­nite­ly rec­om­mend this flick. It’ll make you think twice about how and what you eat.


The Baader Meinhof Complex

This was an absolute­ly spell­bind­ing film. It’s fas­ci­nat­ing to see the par­al­lels between the splin­ter fac­tions in both Amer­i­ca and Ger­many. How the Weath­er­men and the Baad­er Mein­hof Group became self-appoint­ed rep­re­sen­ta­tives of a so-called rad­i­cal left is a strange epi­logue to the advances made world­wide dur­ing the Six­ties.

The Baad­er Mein­hof Com­plex does a fine job of show­ing their descent into mad­ness, as botched jobs lead them to take even more des­per­ate mea­sures, irre­spec­tive of the costs. Most inter­est­ing was the man­ner in which the orig­i­nal mem­bers dis­avowed lat­er gen­er­a­tions of the Red Army Fac­tion. The movie goes to great lengths to show how bru­tal polit­i­cal vio­lence is. To sum up: the Baad­er Mein­hof Gruppe went to extreme lengths to protest Amer­i­can impe­ri­al­ism, but those RAF sol­diers who remained were real­ly cuck­oo for cocoa puffs.

If you’re into polit­i­cal thrillers, it’s def­i­nite­ly worth check­ing out.


My Time at TLA Video

The past ten years were host to the great­est chal­lenges and joys of my life. I start­ed the decade as a tough-mind­ed grad stu­dent at the New School for Social Research. Some­where along the way I turned an unpaid hob­by into a career. Crazy, huh?

In between times, I made the best out of under­em­ploy­ment, teach­ing myself about movies dur­ing a stretch as a video store clerk. I fell in love with film at TLA Video’s store at 4th and South Sts. The store closed ear­li­er this month. Need­less to say, it was a Philly insti­tu­tion that will be sore­ly missed by any­one who set foot in it.

I feel for­tu­nate to have worked with the peo­ple who made TLA Video a safe haven for cinephiles here in Philly. I can’t tell you how many cus­tomers thanked us for sim­ply being the loy­al oppo­si­tion to Block­buster. We knew who Wim Wen­ders was when the big box stores bare­ly car­ried for­eign titles. Sure, it was a low-pay­ing retail job, but at least it had a mis­sion and a clear iden­ti­ty. We were going to offer the sort of movies Block­buster edit­ed out of exis­tence, whether that was for­eign or adult or what­ev­er. TLA was every­thing Block­buster was­n’t.

The road got rock­i­er when Net­flix start­ed to bul­ly brick and mor­tar. When I think back to my time there between 2003-05, I swore I’d nev­er go to Net­flix. It lacked imme­di­ate grat­i­fi­ca­tion, I thought, dis­re­gard­ing all those times I went into the store only to dis­cov­er the movie I so des­per­ate­ly want­ed to see was cur­rent­ly rent­ed. I thought the mail was just a clunky way to deliv­er movies. How wrong I was. Cus­tomers loved it and we watched our busi­ness dwin­dle even in Net­flix’s ear­ly days.

I think the peo­ple who worked at TLA made it the insti­tu­tion it was. I was intro­duced to more off-the-wall movies by my co-work­ers than I have been in 3+ years as a Net­flix cus­tomer. Every­one had their area of exper­tise and our reg­u­lar cus­tomers sought out those of us they trust­ed most when they need­ed to see some­thing, but weren’t sure what to rent. It was a joy to help peo­ple find new and inter­est­ing movies to watch, and a greater plea­sure to dis­cuss them when they returned. It was the only thing we could offer that the com­put­er and it’s rec­om­men­da­tions could­n’t.

Ulti­mate­ly, con­sumers chose con­ve­nience over that lev­el of cus­tomer ser­vice. Oner­ous late fees and the has­sle that came with them were enough to kill off the brick and mor­tar biz. Trust me: we hat­ed those argu­ments as much as you did! The brick and mor­tar busi­ness tried to accom­mo­date this cus­tomer with ter­ri­ble results. There was no price point that would work for a com­pa­ny with the sort of over­head TLA had.  What made TLA Video spe­cial will ulti­mate­ly kill it off. The video store will not die with dig­ni­ty, but rather a slow, lin­ger­ing death at the hands of Net­flix, Red­box, and the mot­ley offer­ing from your cable provider.

When TLA laid me off in 2006, I was hurt most because I real­ly believed in what they hoped to accom­plish. It still hurts. I’ve watched help­less­ly as they’ve laid off many of the peo­ple who made the com­pa­ny great. I’ve since moved on and am very hap­py where I am, but I still miss the ide­al TLA rep­re­sent­ed, even if it set a stan­dard no busi­ness could live up to in today’s econ­o­my.

I think what’s strangest of all is how I will strug­gle to explain what a video store was to my son when he asks about the jobs I’ve held. Are knowl­edge work­ers at the shal­low end of the jobs pool des­tined to go the way of the milk man?


An Avalanche of Entertainment

It’s easy to under­stand why some peo­ple feel com­plete­ly over­whelmed by the enter­tain­ment options at their dis­pos­al. I do, too! When Net­flix and Xbox 360 paired up to stream Watch Instant­ly titles, I sud­den­ly found myself awash in on-demand options. Is it amaz­ing (and a much bet­ter expe­ri­ence than watch­ing on my com­put­er?) Absolute­ly. Do I feel like like I can’t pri­or­i­tize my enter­tain­ment options? Total­ly! All these options are a bless­ing and a curse to some­one who likes more than his fair share of movies. How do I know where to watch them?

Here’s what I’ve watched recent­ly and where:

  • For­get­ting Sarah Mar­shall (Com­cast On Demand)
  • Man on Wire (Net­flix Watch Instant­ly on Xbox 360)
  • The Horse’s Mouth (Com­cast DV‑R)
  • Gomor­rah (actu­al movie the­ater)
  • Sal­vador (Net­flix DVD)

I’m look­ing for some­one to pull togeth­er all of the enter­tain­ment options I have so I can man­age them from a cen­tral hub. I want to be able to pri­or­i­tize my Net­flix queue by know­ing if some­thing will be avail­able on Turn­er Clas­sic Movies or not. I want to be prompt­ed to record or rent when I search I know I’m not alone. Who does­n’t want to get the most out of their cable and Net­flix sub­scrip­tions? Isn’t stuff like this at the heart of the seman­tic web?