Documentary Review: All the guys who miss video stores lament “The Last Blockbuster”

“The Last Blockbuster” is a nostalgic documentary about how we used to find movies to watch in the Olden Days.

We’d make our way down to the corner video store, browse the aisles and perhaps stumble across a buried treasure or an old favorite. Perhaps we step into “the back” — and this was true no matter where your store was — through beaded curtains and into the “porn section.” We’d rent a VHS or Betamax tape or later DVD, watch the rented movie at home and return on pain of death or fear of the dreaded “late fees.”

Eventually, those “Mom and Pop” stores were chased out of business by Blockbuster Video. So maybe, the film unintentionally reminds us, getting nostalgic over “The Last Blockbuster” is a bit misguided.

Sandi Harding is famous in newspaper profiles, TV and youtube videos far and wide, as the “Blockbuster Mom,” the woman who runs the last Blockbuster Video store in America, an archaic holdout in Bend, Oregon. She’s the anchor interview in this light, bittersweet walk down movies-on-video memory lane, a plucky franchisee who runs a store that — as this film was being made — became the very last holdout in what was once a corporation that blundering billionaire Sumner Redstone paid $8.4 billion for.

Director Taylor Morden follows her through her routine — buying new videos, scavenging parts to keep the remaining outdated (“Floppy disc!”) computers in what was once a revolutionary database and inventory system running, cleaning up and dealing with owners Dish Network, which bought and closed all the stores, a final downsizing that started in 2013.

In between snippets of her day we’re giving the history of the company, it’s peak valuation and the blunders and 2008 stock market crash that killed it. A “customer” walks us through the ritual of how a video was rented. And we get a history of the video business that Blockbuster, growing from a single store in Dallas, eventually took over — only to lose the War with Netflix and die a forlorn death, with stores like Sandi’s and the new-closed ones in Alaska lamented or lampooned by John Oliver on “Last Week Tonight” or “Captain Marvel” in a period piece Marvel blockbuster a couple of years back.

Judging from the film’s parade of almost entirely white male interview subjects — beyond the execs who ran or run what’s left of the company — the only people harboring this nostalgia are guys on the cusp of middle age. Some are comics, some are actors like Adam Brody and Jamie Kennedy (former Blockbuster employees, in different ways) or Samm Levine and Eric Close. Ione Skye is practically a token presence representing female fans of a certain age, although having comic actress Lauren Lupkus narrate it makes it feel less male video nerd centric.

Troma Films founder and C-movie impresario Lloyd Kaufman (“Attack of the Killer Tomatoes”) was NOT a fan, a lone voice of dissent in this “I still have my membership card” love-in. His anti “corporate” mentality rant is the second funniest thing in the film, after the John Oliver bit where he tried to “Save” the last Alaska Blockbuster with Russell Crowe memorabilia.]

Thorough as it is in covering the history of the company and the retail phenomenon — my first newspaper feature story was visiting and grading all the videos in a small city where I worked, which led to my first hate mail and angry calls — “Last Blockbuster” plays like a TV feature story that goes on too long.

MPA Rating: unrated

Cast: Sandi Harding, Jamie Kennedy, Samm Levine, Lloyd Kaufman, Adam Brody, Eric Close, Ken Tisher and Tom Case, narrated by Lauren Lupkus.

Credits: Directed by Taylor Morden, script by Zeke Kamm. A 1091 release.

Running time: 1:26

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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