Friday, December 27, 2013

Old Acquaintances Netflix Forgot- Titles gone January 1st

So I have roughly 400 titles in my instant queue, and when I look at it in list form, a whopping 13 titles are listed as “until 1/1/2014.” I would suggest getting a computer and logging onto Netflix when you have a chance (if you log onto a Playstation or a cell phone, can you see your queue in a list form?), and seeing what titles you have that are disappearing on January 1. I’ve listed all the ones I know about below. I certainly hope Netflix gets some of these back, or gets something else in its place. I would think the best business model for Netflix would be getting MORE titles for streaming, not less.
Dark Shadows (1966)
Dark Shadows (1966) is probably the departing title that I’m most upset will be leaving, because I know I have no chance of watching 166 episodes between now and New Year’s. I have fond memories of coming home after school and watching reruns of this gothic horror soap opera (not to be confused with the Tim Burton remake) in the 80′s on Channel 56 KDOC here in the Los Angeles area. For its time, it was thoroughly entertaining, but at times cheesy (one character turns into a werewolf by falling down below the camera’s view and throwing up pieces of clothing and fur to “show” the transformation). I don’t think anyone is going to take the time to watch these on DVD (especially by renting them through Netflix), so this is definitely something that NEEDS to be on streaming, because it would be a long term project to watch. I hope it stays or comes back in the near future.
Quadrophenia (1979)
Being a Who fan since around the same time I was watching Dark Shadows on TV, I suppose I should have seen this by now. But I was never a big fan of the album. I always thought one concept album was enough.
Ned Kelly (2003)
This could be the only Heath Ledger movie I haven’t seen (yes, I even saw 10 Things I Hate About You, or whatever it was called). Seems to have a very Australian cast. Probably for a reason. If you have all the time in the world, perhaps you can do a Ned Kelly marathon and watch this along with the Mick Jagger film of the same name.
Serpico (1973)
I’ve seen this one, and if you haven’t, it’s probably your best bet. Al Pacino did great work in the 70s (yes, kids, it’s hard to believe but true). Director Sidney Lumet has done other classics. The story follows a cop who roots out corruption in the NYPD. My IMDB Rating: 9/10, Netflix: 5/5
Dressed to Kill (1980)
My IMDB rating for this is 7/10, but don’t remember much about this. It’s directed by Brian De Palma, so chances are it has a great opening but a disappointing ending.
Triumph of the Spirit (1989)
The poster for this makes me laugh: “From the Academy Award Winning Producer of ‘Platoon’” As if anyone follows producers like they’re directors.
Carrington (1995)
I’ve always wanted to see this because it was on Siskel and/or Ebert’s Top 10 for that year. More relevant to most viewers would be that it stars Emma Thompson, who did great work in the 90s.
Other titles going away January 1st:
-The Kids in the Hall (this has to be on Comedy Central still or some other cable channel, right?)
Possession (2002), directed by Neil Labute and starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Aaron Eckhart

Monday, December 23, 2013

New Episodes of American Horror Story, Lilyhammer

I’ve been meaning to share the information that Netflix has “new” episodes of American Horror Story, as well as new episodes of their own TV series Lilyhammer. It’s probably old news by now, but like many people the holiday season has been a busy one and it’s hard to find time to post about things, much less fit in a movie or an episode of your favorite series.
While I have yet to watch Lilyhammer, I do watch episodes of American Horror Story on FX as they premiere. If you’re like me and you are suffering through the holiday hiatus of the current season entitled Coven, you might want to go back on Netflix and re-view the previous seasons. I fell in love with AHS’ first season, but felt the incredibly solid season had a weak finale. The new episodes on Netflix are from the second season entitled Asylum, which was much more of a hit and miss experience. Many storylines ended up going nowhere. I don’t want to give away too much, but I’m thinking of the Evan Peters storyline, Chloe Sevigny’s part, and James Cromwell’s fate seemed anticlimactic. There are some spectacular moments in the second season, and it actually had a strong ending (as best as I can remember! I need to refresh my memory). I enjoyed Sarah Paulson’s performance in particular, and Jessica Lange will always be the star of the show. (Don’t go Jessica!). Of course it being set in an asylum means there are some crazy characters. Check out this link if you’ve already seen the season and want to see Pepper in real life:
Hope to have a review here shortly of something Christmas related. If I don’t manage that, then have a great holiday!

Friday, December 20, 2013

I Spit On Your Grave until 12/26

No, I won’t be spitting on your grave for the next five days (ba-dum-bump). The 1978 film, which spawned a 2010 remake, will be around for the whole family for Christmas Day but not after. The IMDB synopsis ( sounds gruesome, and more in the line of current films like Hostel. I prefer horror films versus slasher, raper, stabber films, but if you enjoy this type of movie, it does have its supporters.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Mitt Romney documentary debuting Jan 24 exclusively on Netflix

A new documentary about Mitt Romney and his run for presidency. I’m not sure if I’ll find Mitt Romney interesting enough to watch. If you watch the trailer, he or someone else mentions “flipping” several times. I’m not sure that was my biggest issue with him as a candidate. I flip-flop on issues myself. I just don’t think he was sincere when doing it. I think his original positions were the ones he believed in and he, like John McCain, changed to make himself viable to a Republican Party that will continue to lose elections because what’s important to them is apparently not important to more than 50% of the voting population.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Withnail and I online for just 2 more days

Missed this one in my post from a few days ago. Never seen it, not sure I’ll have time to catch it before it goes. I don’t know much about it, but it has a high rating on IMDB (7.7) and has earned a cult following. Sorry for the late notice, but hopefully you and/or I can catch it before it goes.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Life 2.0: A Second Life Examined

Today’s review highlights why Netflix streaming can be better than other options for movie watching (if it could only get and keep more movies!). I hadn’t heard of Life 2.0 (2011), or the video game experience called Second Life, which apparently got some heavy media attention around 2010, when this film was being made. I don’t think I would have found this if I only had the DVD rental option from Netflix. It’s one of those titles that you can find when aimlessly searching through the listings on my PS3, that seem interesting in the description but truly represent an unknown. You could find a hidden gem, or you could find a turd.
Luckily, I found Life 2.0 to be a very interesting, compelling, thought-provoking, and disturbing documentary. If you read the three reviews on IMDB, apparently people who play the game don’t agree. Well, you know the old saying, “opinions are like a**holes, everyone stinks except your own.” But these 3 reviewers really missed the point. One person said “it fell into the trap of featuring the “unique,” because the day to day is pretty standard.” How would the day to day be something worth watching? Once the director decided not to insert himself into the movie a la Michael Moore or Morgan Spurlock, the only logical choice is to focus on subjects he and his audience would find interesting. Another said “Unfortunately, Jason Spingarn-Koff followed along with past media treatments and gave us yet another ugly-side-only look at SecondLife with content that could have been fit into a 10-minute Dateline segment.” There’s a lot of ugly here, but if that’s all you see then you’re being judgmental about everyone in the film. Of the four main subjects in the film, there’s only one that I completely had no sympathy for. The third reviewer writes “They could have at least chosen someone who had a normal life and documented how it affected them, not videotape someone who clearly has a lot of problems. Not all users who play the game are like those three y'know.” Well, I think the two people in the adulterous relationship had a normal life. As did the fellow whose avatar was a little girl- he had a normal life before the game.
As someone who has not played the game, and doesn’t feel like I have to defend it, I felt the filmmaker was being fair to the people in the film. The first people introduced in the film are a couple who are both having an affair. One is a married man living in Canada, the other a married woman with a daughter in the United States. Yes, I was immediately disturbed by these two as they retreated to the virtual world of Second Life, and indulged in fantasy, escaping from their realities, which the filmmaker doesn’t really show us. We can’t judge whether or not the game caused the dysfunction in their marriages, or if there was dysfunction that led them to seek the fantasy of Second Life. One can get the feeling from the way they talk about their affair that they are defective people. Nothing throughout the course of the film changed my mind about the gentleman in this affair. He talks early on about how he is committing “emotional adultery,” a term he uses, with an awareness of how in many ways what he is doing is more harmful to his marriage than a purely physical betrayal. He is the one person in the film that I didn’t have sympathy for at any point. I don’t necessarily think he was an evil person, but he didn’t seem to be someone  capable of learning from experience like adults should. I did feel sympathy towards the woman, who for some reason really buys into the fantasy of the game and her relationship. Eventually fantasy is eclipsed by reality, although a bit too late for her. There is a brief segment of her daughter, who seems to be taking the changes in her life in stride. But she has her own kid version of Second Life that she plays. I think the filmmaker was saying in this that despite all the apparent damage her parents’ marriage suffered from this video game, these sort of games are so ingrained in our culture that there is a passive acceptance of them. Or perhaps the daughter was unaware of how her mother met her lover?
The third person the film follows is a middle aged woman who has created her own houses, outfits, and more within the game, and using the monetary system of Second Life, has created a business that makes money for her in real life. All while living in her parents’ basement. She sleeps during the day and is online for 15 hours during the night and morning. Although this may seem pathetic, the viewer quickly recognizes that she is a creative person with a good eye for design. You sense that if things happened differently in her “first” life, she could have had a successful line of clothing or something. But then you question whether or not the virtual world is diverting her creativity from real life, and keeping her from really taking risks to become successful in a more traditional first life sense. But according to her, she made a lot of money for a time from her virtual creations. But the economic downturn and a hacker threaten her ability to maintain her success. This portion of the film highlights how intellectual property in a virtual world is creating new legal implications. What is property in a virtual world? How is that protected by our current laws? While these questions and more are raised in an interesting way, it also was frustrating to know that this documentary is dated by now, and you don’t know from the film how the legal system’s handling of Second Life and other virtual worlds has evolved. I also wonder if my ignorance of the existence of Second Life means that its popularity has reached a plateau, or if I am just ignorant.
The last person followed by the documentary I found to be the most disturbing initially, but at the end of the film you understand why a grown man would use an 11yr old girl as an avatar. You will recognize that while his real life fell apart as his Second Life obsession grows, he discovers something about himself that will actually help him heal himself and move forward in his life. Or apparently if you have played Second Life and feel you have to defend it, you won’t.
So, yes, you may ultimately have to view Second Life negatively on some level after viewing this film. The capability to lose oneself in a game with fairly crappy graphics is a bit scary on some level. Losing hours of your life to something that is really not life is scary, but also something that we all do on some level (fidget much with your cellphone, anyone?). As someone who has played more traditional video games, I can relate to a game’s escapist charm, or it letting you live a fantasy life for a few hours. Where else can I be a world class soccer player? But there is at least some cognitive distance (for the average adult at least) inherent in these games, because I know am not Lionel Messi, or a Call of Duty soldier. I believe Second Life can still be a game for many people, but it also allows people to become their avatar. This dynamic is what makes Life 2.0 an interesting film worth your time and consideration.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Devil's Double gone 1/2/2014; when biographies meet fiction

The Devil's Double (2011) Poster
So I’ve been looking through my instant queue of nearly 400 titles, and the only ones that seem to be disappearing soon are animated straight to video style movies from DC (featuring Superman and Batman, etc.). Those titles will be gone December 17. When I was randomly looking thru new titles, I stumbled across The Devil’s Double (2011), which I saw in the theater.
This movie belongs to a genre that needs a name- a film based on a true story, but has a lot of fictional elements thrown in to fill in a story, or add intrigue. Maybe it could be called “a truthy story” to borrow a phrase from Stephen Colbert. Or maybe it could be called a biofic(tion). A perfect example of this type of movie is The Last King of Scotland (2006), which featured fine performances by Forest Whitaker playing the real life tyrant Idi Amin, and James McAvoy playing a completely fictional character. I liked the movie (7 out of 10 on IMDB), but it couldn’t really make it to greatness in my mind. It was a strange juxtaposition for me, the portrayal of an African leader who terrorized and killed his countrymen in real life, threatening a white person created by a screenwriter (perhaps to give the audience a person to relate to, which is not necessary if you’ve seen Hotel Rwanda (2004)). The next film I can think of to present fiction as biography is The Social Network (2010), which worked for me, perhaps because it went all out in taking a stance on the tight-lipped Zuckerberg. It probably wasn’t the whole truth, but it felt like the truth. The latest DVD that I got from Netflix was The Iron Lady (2011), which also had to fill in some blanks that weren’t in the history books. Perhaps to its detriment, the film spends a lot of time with the older Margaret Thatcher, who suffered in private from dementia.
The Devil’s Double follows this format, telling the story of an Iraqi who is forced to become Uday Hussein’s body double because of his physical similarity to the dictator’s son. While this story is based on the real-life body doubles used by Saddam Hussein and his sons, a large part of the film is fictionalized, and a lot of it felt fake or forced, like the action was being ramped up at the expense of suspense. Both positive and negative reviews I’ve read online highlight how much it tries to be like Scarface, which is not really a prime example of restrained storytelling. Lee Tamahori directed the film, and he doesn’t have the best track record with me. Like many of his movies, it was a bit of a mess and over the top. Dominic Cooper does a fair job playing the dual roles, and Ludivine Sagnier plays their love interest effectively. There was still enough entertaining moments here to warrant a 6 out of 10 on IMDB for me. I still feel like there’s a far better movie waiting to be made about this intriguing subject.
If anyone reading this knows of any other biopics that rely alot on the scriptwriter’s imagination, let me know (especially if they are on Netflix Instant). Tomorrow I’ll have a review of what I think is an overlooked, underrated, and misunderstood documentary.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Lovelace Review

Lovelace (2013) is a mostly successful biopic about Linda Lovelace, a porn star who gained notoriety from her starring role in Deep Throat (1972). It stars Amanda Seyfried as Lovelace, and Peter Sarsgaard as her (abusive?) husband who gets her into the porn business. Some of the fun of watching the movie is that practically every supporting role is filled by actors you probably know- Sharon Stone and Robert Patrick as her parents; Hank Azaria and Bobby Cannavale as the “directors;” Chris Noth as the producer; Juno Temple as Linda’s friend before fame; Adam Brody as her co-star; Chloe Sevigny as a journalist; Wes Bentley as a photographer; and James Franco as Hugh Hefner. Also, looking at the IMDB listings, Eric Roberts was in this as well, yet I can’t remember who he portrayed at this time.
An all-star cast however does not guarantee a good movie however, as anyone who has seen Out of the Furnace knows. Another issue that this film faces is that it purports to tell a true story, which can be a problem if subsequent research presents contradictory information, or omitted information that could have weakened the narrative. A great example of this is An American Crime (2007), which is also on Netflix streaming. It was a gripping film, but the heinous nature of the actual crimes committed made the film feel watered down. This must have contributed to the negative reviews of what I thought was actually a pretty good film with good performances.

Reading reviews online, Lovelace also seems to suffer from what informed people know of Linda’s life. There is no mention of the hardcore fetish films she participated in prior to Deep Throat, for example. For myself, just as with An American Crime, I can’t let myself get caught up in which details were omitted. Even good documentaries need to take a point of view to be interesting, without letting every counterargument slow down the film. Just like my review of (A)sexual, my principle for reviewing non-documentary films is to judge what the film presents to me, and if it works. Even though the film may have been soft on Lovelace, and been a bit too much from her perspective, the film is entertaining, the performances are believable, and although the subject matter is grim, it doesn’t overreach, overdramatize, or wallow in certain people’s depravity.

Although the film follows a biopic’s normal structure of girl before fame, girl meets guy, guy helps her become famous, she deals with the trappings of fame, etc., it does try something a little different. We are presented with the young girl skyrockets to fame narrative, but then the film backtracks and shows us the seedier side of the business, and the price of her stardom. This works for the most part, but even with this unique way of telling the story, the “untold” story seems predictable and even anticipated. But part of what makes this film work is that her story is not unique.  The details may change, but we can be sure that the basic arc of the average porn star’s career is the same as Linda’s. Seyfried does well in the role; she may seem like she doesn’t have much range, but I would call that “not overacting.” Sarsgaard plays a cretin without making him seem like a cartoon. The myriad of recognizable actors in supporting roles was not distracting in the Ted Danson in Saving Private Ryan way; everyone hits their marks. The script was written by Andy Bellin, who co-wrote Trust (2011) which was an excellent overlooked film (used to be on streaming, available on DVD). Just like in that film, all the characters’ words and actions are believable. You understand their motivations. Again, this is more important to me than including every detail about Lovelace’s life.

Lovelace is not revolutionary, but it moves at a brisk pace, and doesn’t drag in places that the generally superior Boogie Nights does.  This is another example of why most films should be just 90 minutes. Lovelace is definitely worth checking out.
My Netflix rating: 3 stars out of 5
My IMDB rating: 7 out of 10

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Short Game Trailer

I saw another bus stop ad for Netflix. Apparently Netflix has the exclusive rights to this documentary. I am not interested in golf at all or children, but I do have a love for documentaries. This is available December 12. When I saved it to my Netflix queue, it saved it as a DVD, and I later saved it to my instant queue. I would think it would be streaming only, but I guess we’ll find out in a couple days. Been busy the last few days. Reviews of a couple movies will be coming soon.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Lovelace now on streaming

Got an e-mail from Netflix informing me that Lovelace (2013) starring Amanda Seyfried is now on streaming. The movie got mixed reviews from critics, but the user reviews on Netflix seem to be largely positive. I’ll have to check it out soon.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Netflix Original Content (I'll get to it someday...)

I suppose that if I am blogging about Netflix streaming, I should post about their content that is exclusive to Netflix. Well, I am going to get to that, but the Protestant work-ethic instilled in me means that I have to make it almost a full time job. Fortunately, deciding to watch Arrested Development from the beginning rather than jumping straight into the new episodes has been a great time. I would consider AD to be one of the best TV shows of all time (along with Seinfeld, The Simpsons in its hey day, Breaking Bad, among others…that’s a post for another time), and I hadn’t seen the old episodes in quite awhile. I’ve heard that the new episodes take awhile to take off, or for the jokes to pay off. The original series is a bit like that. The first season is pretty good, but I am half way thru the second season, and it’s really taking off. I don’t go a minute without laughing. Anyways, I will be sure to post about the new Netflix episodes once I get to them.
I’ve heard good things about Orange is the New Black, which will be the next Netflix series I’ll check out after I’m done with AD. House of Cards has gotten some kind of award or awards I can’t remember right now, but I haven’t heard anything positive about it. But to be fair I’ve only heard one negative thing about it, and I’m not sure I trust that source’s opinion. I don’t know of anyone who has seen Hemlock Grove, so not sure I’ll ever try that.
Am I forgetting any other Netflix series? Let me know.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Baader Meinhof Complex until 12/8

The latest movie in my queue to disappear from streaming is The Baader Meinhof Complex (2008) which is the story of a German Terrorist Group from the 1970′s. I saw this movie in the theater, and while it was entertaining in parts, it was kind of a mess, and went on too long (150 minutes when it could have been two). If you check out the IMDB page for this title, the review that is currently featured pretty much sums up my opinion of the film as well. I find stories of terrorism before 9/11 to be inherently fascinating, but this movie had too many points in it where the action dragged or my interest waned for me to wholeheartedly recommend it.
My IMDB Rating: 6 out of 10
My Netflix rating: 3 out of 5

Monday, December 2, 2013

Review of (A)Sexual or How a Movie Completely Disappears from Netflix

So my last post about the disappearing titles excluded a fourth subsequent discovery, a 2011 documentary called (A)sexual. I watch it right before the deadline, and now while I’m looking for it on Netflix, it’s as if it never existed. It reminds of that awful movie with Julianne Moore (The Forgotten) where everybody forgets they had children because of something something something.
Back to the movie, which you can find on IMDB still (try my link below or try searching for David Jay, the main subject, typing (A)sexual stumps the IMDB search as well). This is a documentary about people who have no sexual attraction, called Asexuals. I had seen the Montel Williams episode years ago with David Jay (yes, I’ve spent too much of my life watching bad tv) so I was aware of this population of people. My viewing partner (aka my wife) was not. Although the documentary was interesting, it felt more like an intro to the subject for both of us, and left us with unanswered questions. Is anyone further exploring the supposed link between autism and asexuality? for example. This documentary is only an hour and 15 minutes, so any in-depth discussion might still its thunder a bit. The aforementioned David Jay is a main focus of this film, and over the course of the documentary goes through a realization that both I, my wife, and the always entertaining Dan Savage, who was interviewed in the documentary, found troubling. Is it fair for an asexual to have a relationship with a sexual being? Dan and I also were bothered a bit by asexuals positioning themselves as a movement/group that seeks to fall under the LGBT banner. (Savage humorously calls the resulting LGBTA an “alphabet soup”). I completely understand their need to raise awareness, but I don’t think they have gone thru the same struggle as homosexuals for acceptance. It doesn’t seem that the consequences of asexuality extend beyond social awkwardness or being misunderstood. Maybe they still have a struggle ahead of them in that sense, because even the LGBT community has trouble understanding it at this point. I guess that is the main problem with the documentary- it makes you aware of asexuality in an entertaining way, but does it really help you understand it? Do you really know what makes these people tick? For the most part, no. And since Netflix has made this title disappear like a child in a bad sci fi movie, you may never find out for yourself.
The Asexuality website if you want to learn more:
My IMDB rating: 6 out of 10
My Netflix rating : 3 out of 5