Netflix weighs in on Net Neutrality

Netflix weighs in on Net Neutrality

Anybody who cares about their pocketbook, and freedom to use internet sites as they wish, should be interested in this issue. I find it ironic that these companies want to charge web sites practically a la carte, but they don’t offer consumers that option when it comes to choosing channels, and not being stuck with 300 channels you don’t want.

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Review: Oscar Documentary Challenge Entry #1- Cutie and the Boxer

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I have watched the first of the four Academy Award nominated documentaries available on Netflix streaming (see my previous post). Cutie and the Boxer tells the story of the Bronx-based Japanese artist Ushio Shinohara, and his long-suffering wife, Noriko, who is an artist in her own right. I watched it first because it’s the shortest of the five nominated documentaries, clocking in at 82 minutes. It’s a fairly interesting and well done documentary, but left me wanting a bit more.

It’s a bit difficult for me to discuss films without feeling I’m spoiling the experience for someone who has yet to watch it. At 82 minutes then, I can’t make this review that long. I can say that it’s a pleasure to watch documentaries these days and not feel like your watching an inferior film when it comes to picture quality and cinematography. This film looks great, with director Zachary Heinzerling taking small snippets of the film to show the surrounding city. Shots of the nearby bridge are reminiscent of Woody Allen’s Manhattan. Technology is a good thing when a huge budget is not needed to make a movie look pleasing to the eye.

Getting back to the story, Ushio is “the” artist in the family, the one that has received the most attention. But frankly, he’s a bit of a mess. The series of paintings he’s getting attention for at the beginning of the film to me are nothing more than a gimmick- he uses boxing gloves covered with paint and punches a large canvas. His agent describes them as “visceral” and “without thought,” to which I say “Yeah, so?” I’m not sure what he is trying to say with those paintings, and it looks like Ushio doesn’t either. I did like his sculptures, which he seems to treat as an afterthought, or as a way to get some cash to pay their past due rent. It’s scary how he shoves them into a suitcase on a trip to Japan. Later on, he tries to branch out and do a different kind of painting. As a viewer of the movie, (and if you’re not completely unfamiliar with what makes “good” art), his wife Noriko summed up my thought on this particular attempt: “This is not very good,” she tells him.

His wife, “Cutie,” has the soul of an artist, yet has put herself and her ambitions on the backburner for most of their relationship. Ushio is like an artist who never really matures and grows, but the real treat of the movie is watching Cutie’s artwork come to life. Whereas even Ushio’s best work in my opinion never really makes you feel something, Cutie’s artwork has a real heart and soul to it. She is the star of the film.

As far as a criticism goes for the documentary itself, I don’t feel it showed enough of her artwork, and because the couple are very Japanese, a lot of things are left unsaid, and I wanted to feel things a little bit more from someone. The only source of feeling and emotion in the film came from Noriko’s artwork, which there is not enough of, as I said before. And frankly, I’m not sure why there isn’t more of her artwork in the film. Had she just started doing the work that was shown? Who knows? Another underdeveloped part of the film revolves around their son. You get enough of him and about him to get a sense of who he is and what his issues are (he too is an artist, and probably makes the father the third best artist in the family), but you don’t really hear anything from him.

So, my IMDB rating would be 7 out of 10, Netflix rating 3 out of 5. So out of two films nominated in this category, 20 Feet from Stardom is still my choice for Best Documentary of 2013.

The Netflix Oscar Documentary Challenge

I’m not the first blogger to catch this, but I’ll blog away. Netflix has four out of the five documentaries nominated for the Oscars available for streaming. I am committing to watching these four before Oscar night on March 2nd.

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I’ve heard great things about The Act of Killing and the seriousness of the subject matter makes it a strong contender for the prize. Lacking a documentary about THE Holocaust, which usually means an automatic victory in the documentary category (unless a film is up against another Holocaust doc), a film about genocide would seem to be the closest thing we have this year. The synopsis on IMDB just sounds insane: “A documentary that challenges former Indonesian death squad leaders to reenact their real-life mass-killings in whichever cinematic genres they wish, including classic Hollywood crime scenarios and lavish musical numbers.”

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I’ve mentioned this Netflix exclusive before. The Square draws its name from the site of the unrest in Cairo, Egypt. The documentary could be a contender because it’s topical and current, and quite possibly relevant and relatable than the others in the category. The IMDB synopsis: “A group of Egyptian revolutionaries battle leaders and regimes, risking their lives to build a new society of conscience.” I’m not sure exactly what that means, but it should be interesting.

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I had never heard of this one before the nominations had come out. The IMDB synopsis: “This candid New York love story explores the chaotic 40-year marriage of famed boxing painter Ushio Shinohara and his wife, Noriko. Anxious to shed her role as her overbearing husband’s assistant, Noriko finds an identity of her own.” Well, I’m not sold on this one. It could very well be interesting, but if I don’t appreciate their art, or find it all pretentious, this one might be tedious. I don’t see this one winning, but I’m keeping an open mind about it.

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This is also not a title I’ve heard of, but the director, Rick Rowley, has a familiar face. Dirty Wars also deals with the Middle East and terrorism: “Investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill is pulled into an unexpected journey as he chases down the hidden truth behind America’s expanding covert wars..” 

AVAILABLE ON DVD FROM NETFLIX:

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The one documentary that I have seen is only available on DVD from Netflix. 20 Feet From Stardom shines the light on the singers in the background who have the most amazing voices, have recorded some of the greatest moments in rock and pop history (The Rolling Stones’ Gimme Shelter, for example), and have been criminally ignored and practically stolen from by the music industry. “Backup singers live in a world that lies just beyond the spotlight. Their voices bring harmony to the biggest bands in popular music, but we’ve had no idea who these singers are or what lives they lead, until now.” A well done documentary, but will the subject matter be “important” enough for the Academy? It was definitely a crowd pleaser when I saw it in the theater.

My IMDB Rating: 8/10

My Netflix rating: 4/5

So I have enough time to watch the other four documentaries over the next 5 weeks, and post the reviews here. I’ll have my winner before March 2. Right now of course, 20 Feet From Stardom is in first place!

Review of Oscar Nominated The Hunt (Jagten) now on Streaming

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One might think that Netflix may not be that useful for the home viewer to make their own decision about who the winner should be. Netflix would seem even less useful, as a lot of nominees, if they are not still in the theaters, are only available on DVD. There is however one category where you can use Netflix streaming (almost) exclusively to decide what the best film is (more on that later this week). Jagten (The Hunt) (2012), now on streaming, has been nominated for Best Foreign Language Film. (The 2012 date can seem confusing, but I guess it qualifies for the Oscars because the 2012 is from a festival, and it was released in Denmark in January 2013).

Thomas Vinterberg wrote and directed this film. You may know him from writing and directing the Dogma film Festen (1998), which was criminally ignored by the Oscars that year, but received plenty of other awards and recognition. It also has earned its place at #222 on IMDB’s Top 250. Jagten is like a companion piece to Festen, looking at the flip side of sexual abuse, and how it affects someone who is falsely accused. VInterberg masterfully portrayed the hurt and suffering of a sordid and scandalous family secret in Festen; you felt the protagonist’s pain, delighted in the cathartic pleasure of bringing the evil in the family out into the light, and were shocked by the stubbornness of the family to see the truth. It presented the epitome of a family gathering gone wrong; we’ve all experienced an uncomfortable dinner, but not quite like that.

Jagten (The Hunt) taps into similar emotions just as effectively. People are just as stubborn as in Festen, and as ugly. Mads Mikkelsen (who seems to be in almost every other foreign movie on Netflix streaming) is perfect in the lead role, and I was also impressed by Lasse Fogelstrom, his son who believes his father is innocent. Jagten is a film to be experienced like Festen, so I won’t spend too much time discussing plot points. The synopsis on IMDB tells you all you need to know so I include it here: “A teacher lives a lonely life, all the while struggling over his son’s custody. His life slowly gets better as he finds love and receives good news from his son, but his new luck is about to be brutally shattered by an innocent little lie.” Just like Vinterberg’s previous masterpiece, the lie revolves around child abuse. Although this film covers some of the same emotional terrain as Prisoners (2013), it is not ambiguous in the innocence or guilt of the accused, and while Prisoners indulged in the vigilante impulse in order to question it, Jagten leaves no question about the barbarity and ugliness when a town lets emotion blind them to reason and rationality.

You will be angry, but largely sympathetic to most of the characters (the accuser’s father, for example). The ending of the film at first seem to not fit the rest of the film, and be uncharacteristic of VInterberg, and frankly unrealistic. But the last minute is perfect, and tempers the hopefulness that precedes it with a large dose of reality- that once allegations are out there, they never really disappear.

My IMDB Rating: 9/10

My Netflix Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

 

 

Netflix a good investing option?

Netflix a good investing option?

Maybe this is a little beyond the scope of my blog, but I have wondered if Netflix will thrive in the long run, due to increasing competition from HBO and Hulu Plus, for example. This writer offers the opinion that it will be good for Netflix in the long run. I hope so, but if not, I may have to change the name of this blog sometime down the road to something more general, like Aaron’s Streaming Movies Review (Streaming makes it sound somehow wrong, like “Aaron’s Steaming Pile of Reviews”). Pay attention to the comments below. Someone mentions something called a Rabbit that sounds like it could be serious competitition (if it’s not just someone plugging their product). Hopefully this writer is right.

Bye to some Sci-Fi; Jack Reacher

The bi-monthly purge of instant titles is right on schedule. There’s only a handful of titles going away on January 15th from my queue, but you might want to double check yours.

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Timecrimes (2007) has been in my queue for quite awhile. I suppose it’s been in there partly because it does look interesting, but it’s also in Spanish, and I’m always looking for ways to practice or keep what little Spanish I remember fresh. It is low budget sci-fi, which can be dicey. But it does have a fairly high rating on IMDB (7.2).

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Primer (2004) is another sci-fi flick that concentrates on ideas rather than special effects. My wife hates this movie, and although I KNOW I’ve seen it, I didn’t rate it on IMDB. I remember finding the idea intriguing, but it looks like it was recorded on an old camcorder that’s spent 10 years inside someone’s colon. Feel free to give it a try, but just know that you shouldn’t be waiting for the picture to get better like you sometimes do with Netflix. It’s not going to get better.

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I am probably going to catch Bubble (2005) before the 15th, because it’s only 73 minutes long and it’s a Steven Soderbergh film. Granted, it’s probably an Informant-like Soderbergh experience, but he’s done good enough work to warrant a viewing. Catch Side Effects (2013) on streaming if you haven’t seen it. It was one of the better overlooked movies of last year, with Soderbergh doing a modern-day Hitchcockian tale.

Also leaving is some cartoon based on Dante’s Inferno called Dante’s Inferno. I guess it’s in my queue because I like cartoons.

Some not so high quality releases that have been recently added included Guilt Trip, and Tom Cruise miscast as Jack Reacher (2012). Will Tom ever give up on being the action hero? Not sure if I’ll ever watch this to find out. But it’s there for all to see.

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Review of Stand Up Guys

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Stand Up Guys (2012) is a perfect example of what I used to call a “blockbuster” movie. “Blockbuster” as in when you see a trailer for it in the theater, you say “Hey, this movie has Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, and Alan Arkin! But it doesn’t look that good.” So you skip it in the movie theater, but in the 1990s when you go to Blockbuster Video six months later, all the copies of the movies you really wanted to rent are out, so you see this one and you figure it’s “good enough” for a rental, along with 2 or 3 other movies that have someone in them you recognize, but you couldn’t quite muster up the energy or the time or the $5 to see it in the theater.

Look how far we’ve come as a society! Now the whole “eh, it’s good enough for a home viewing” process can completely take place on your couch, thanks to Netflix streaming. Too bad Netflix doesn’t have more of these type of titles. Well, maybe they do, and I just never think they are worth my time when there are other movies that might be good.

I guess I haven’t even technically reviewed this film yet, but it is the equivalent of a Blockbuster rental. The movie is directed by Fisher Stevens, who is better known (or at least seen) as an actor. Stand Up Guys is the first full-length movie script for screenwriter Noah Haidle, and I’m sure this movie was made because at least they could underpay the director and screenwriter, even if the trio of well-known actors didn’t take a pay cut to make this. The screenplay is a bit flat- some jokes hit their mark, while others are corny and obvious. The film goes where you expect it to. There was enough here where if they had gone a slightly different direction, it might have been memorable on some level. But it ends as you suspect, and if you suspect it is going to end the way many other films have, you (or at least I) won’t remember come this time next year. On a side note, I will say that I enjoyed this a lot more than Nebraska (2013)currently my nomination for the most overrated film of the year. Nebraska was also written by a first-timer, and I don’t look forward to either his or Haidle’s work in the future.

As for the acting, I remember the advertising for Stand Up Guys positioning itself as a comedy in the same vein as the more commerically successful Last Vegas (2013) (which I have not seen). It’s more of a dramedy, and at the very least I am happy to report that Al Pacino does a decent job here, and is not a complete caricature of himself. He is believable as an ex-con who has to face the consequences of the actions that lead him to prison, even on the day of his release. He certainly doesn’t embarrass himself like he’s done so much in the last decade or so (88 Minutes anyone?). Christopher Walken is good as almost always, playing the colleague of Pacino’s ex-con, who has to deliver street justice, albeit reluctantly. Alan Arkin’s part is pretty good, but far too short. Julianna Margulies is featured as Arkin’s daughter, and her role here will make fans of ER at least smile, if not chuckle. You’ll probably recognize Lucy Punch from other roles, while Vanessa Ferlito’s part seems to belong in another movie.

If you’re curious, or a fan of any of the actors, it may be worth your time. It is only 1hr 35 mins.

My IMDB rating: 5 out of 10

My Netflix rating: 2 out of 5