Dear Netflix

Dear Netflix,

After many years of loyal patronage, I will be canceling my Netflix membership at the end of December.

As we’ve shared so many delightful years together I thought you deserved an explanation, so I’m writing this letter to spell it all out for you.

I’ve been with you from almost the beginning. I think we first subscribed in 2000 or 2001. We took a break after our DVD player went on the fritz, but we reactivated in 2004 and embarked on a mad alphabetical odyssey, watching almost 300 movies I’d always wanted to see. I reviewed them all on my blog. When we finally finished the list three years later, we started all over again with another alphabetical list, which took us a mere thirteen months to complete. Since then, parental responsibilities have cut into our movie viewing time, and the alphabetical approach has broken down, but we’ve continued to enjoy the service.

We’ve been through some tough times together. In 2005, when our home was flooded and much of the Gulf Coast lay in ruins, I was impressed that you handled our account in a sensible and humane fashion. Not every corporate entity was so enlightened. That led me to believe that perhaps you were that most elusive of chimeras, a corporation with a conscience. But perhaps I was projecting my wishful thoughts because of all the pleasure I derived from those movies. Several recent developments have made me question your integrity.

First, you phased out the Friends feature earlier this year, despite vocal protests from many of your most loyal members. I was disappointed, but decided to hang in there.

Next, you announced our subscription fee would be going up. The reason? You’re wanting to plow more resources into delivering streaming content. You’re also offering a new streaming-only plan which would actually save me money. But here’s the rub: Of the 34 movies currently in my queue, only 12 are available for streaming. I’m perfectly happy to get a DVD in the mail instead. But I’m not happy to pay more for it.

And here’s what sealed the deal: I read Jessica Thurber’s post on the Deaf Politics blog. It seems the Achilles heel with streaming videos is a lack of support for captions. Oh, it’s technically possible, it’s just that you’re not doing much of it, not are you indexing which movies have captions and which don’t. I don’t generally use captions, but I understand their value. When my parents were visiting for the holidays we watched movies with captions so that everyone would catch the dialog.

Therefore, in solidarity with the hearing impaired, and to protest your fee increase, and because I don’t like the way you got rid of your community features, I am going to cancel my membership.

I will probably check out one of your competitors such as GreenCine. I think they may have a better catalog of obscure and artsy films anyhow. For example, they’ve got The American Astronaut which has been in my Netflix “saved” queue for a year now. They’ve also got Don’t Need You: The Herstory of Riot Grrrl and The Ipcress File and a whole bunch of flicks you haven’t seen fit to acquire for DVD or streaming. As a matter of fact GreenCine is looking better all the time.

But don’t worry Netflix. I’m sure you can lure me back if you address the issues I’ve listed above.

What’s more, I am posting this letter to my blog, and encouraging anyone who feels as I do to follow suit.

Sincerely,

Phasing Out Friends

Phasing Out Friends

I remember back in 2004 I had a revelation on how Netflix could enhance its service by adding social features. I thought it was a such a good idea I contemplated writing to them to make the suggestion. I never actually contacted them, but I was pleased as punch when they actually did roll out a “Friends” feature later that year. As I mentioned some time later:

What I like about the system is that you can see how your friends rated different movies.

After returning a DVD to Netflix, I get a message prompting me to rate and review the movie, and I usually take note of how my friends rated it. It’s a little piece of information I enjoy seeing. (Even more so, I like the idea of leaving notes about movies that friends can see, but in my opinion Netflix never quite got this right.) But recently I noticed this little piece of information has gone missing. Upon further investigation, I’ve learned that Netflix is phasing out the Friends feature.

According to Wikipedia:

In March 2010, as part of a redesign of its movie-details pages, the Friends feature began to be phased out. Users could no longer see their friends’ ratings on movie pages, and what remained of the friends section was moved to a small link at the bottom of each page. The initial announcement about the redesign on Netflix’s official blog made no reference to any changes to the Friends feature. Hundreds of angry users posted negative comments, and the feedback prompted Netflix’s Vice President of Product Management, Todd Yellin, to post a follow-up statement. While apologizing for poor communication about the changes, Yellin stated that the Friends feature would continue to be phased out, citing figures that only 2 percent of members used the feature and the company’s limited resources to maintain the service. Online efforts by some to save the feature continued, including the launch of a Facebook group. Netflix users have also began using the movie-reviews section of the website to post comments protesting the changes.

(This last is being discussed on Movie Fans: A Netflix Community.)

Netflix has approximately ten million active subscribers. If only 2% of those customers use the Friends feature, then that’s still approximately 200,000 people, which seems substantial. As the folks who’ve started the Facebook protest group have noted, that 2% may tend to represent the most dedicated, passionate and enthusiastic portion of the customer base.

I see this as an interesting philosophical question. Is it practical to maintain a social feature if it is used by a minority of customers? How big — and how vocal — does that minority have to be to make catering to them worthwhile, from a business sense?

But I think it’s an even more interesting practical question. Social media is pretty hot right now. I believe this Friends feature adds significant value to the Netflix experience. If the numbers are truly disappointing, I’d think Netflix would do well to improve its implementation rather than junk it. It seems counter-intuitive to phase out a social feature of a popular website in 2010.

I also see some parallels between this issue and the plight of The Missing 1200, Saints season ticket holders who have been “disenfranchised” by remodeling in the Superdome.

It will be interesting to see if either group prevails against the Corpocracy. They sure keep us busy fighting for crumbs, don’t they? Meanwhile our nation continues to unravel.

Oh, and if you use Netflix, friend me!

Second Alpha-Cinematic Circumnavigation

We’ve finished our second pass through the alphabet. The first go-round took three years and was interrupted by Katrina; this second go-round took thirteen months and was interrupted by the birth of our daughter.

Out of 130-odd DVDs, my favorites were 28 Days Later, A.I., The Bridge on the River Kwai, Baraka, The Bicycle Thief, Cabaret, The Battle of Algiers, Donnie Darko, Double Indemnity, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Doctor Zhivago, Cinema Paradiso, Fanny and Alexander (TV version), Howl’s Moving Castle, The Incredibles, Hotel Rwanda, I ♥ Huckabees, Kung Fu Hustle, Knocked Up, Kinsey, The Life of Mammals, Life in the Undergrowth, The Lives of Others, March of the Penguins, Nirvana: Nevermind, Pan’s Labyrinth, The Take, Wages of Fear, The Wire (Season Four), and Whale Rider.

That gives you some idea of my taste in film and video. If you’re so inclined, you can add me as a friend on Netflix. Thanks to all y’all who helped us discover new and interesting works of filmic art. In some cases you may not even have realized it, but when I see a bunch of friends have rated a flick highly, I generally check it out.

And so we begin again. Will we make it through the alphabet a third time? Xy thinks so, but I’m skeptical.

I Am Not a Marketing Tool

I like Netflix. They’ve got a nice service that I enjoy and they did right by their customers after Katrina, automatically suspending all subscriptions within the disaster zone.

But by God, I am not promoting this event on Thursday. Dennis Quaid rocks Spanish Plaza, followed by a screening of The Big Easy? I have no clue as to Mr. Quaid’s musical prowess, but in my experience most locals turn up their nose at that flick.

(Full confession: I watched The Big Easy before moving down here as part of my feeble research effort. I thought it was OK. It did yield one line which Xy and I often quote to one another: “This is the Big Easy baby. We got a different way of doing things down here.” Actually it might be a hoot to see it again after all these years.)

I mention this only because a Netflix PR flack just contacted me (and Adrastos and Oyster and Maitri and Alan G.) and asked me to flog this on my blog.

No, I say. Enough! I am not a marketing tool. I will not succumb. Except that maybe I just did, but it was ironical, you know.

Z

Woo to the hoo. We’ve reached the final letter of the alphabet. We watched three films that began with Z.

  • Z (1969) This is a French film but it is set in Greece. Since I speak neither French nor Greek, my confusion was minimal. The story concerns violent political intrigue and is based on real events. I found it absolutely fascinating.
  • Zorba the Greek (1964) Another film set in Greece. (Strangely enough both these films feature the same Greek actress, playing a widow both times.) It’s pretty good, but as Xy says, “It’s not all that.”
  • Zelig (1983) Woody Allen’s mockumentary about a “human chameleon” is skillfully executed and a joy to watch from a purely technical standpoint, what with all the seamlessly interspersed authentic and fake newsreel footage and other goodies. The narrative can’t quite sustain the same level of inspired brilliance throughout, degenerating at some points into mere comedic amusement.

So there you have it. We started on this list of films back in 2004, when I compiled a list of films I’d always wanted to watch but never had. The list was drawn from a variety of critical sources, and some titles still aren’t available on DVD. I’ve added to the list whenever additional films came to my attention.

It’s taken three years to watch them all. We had some major interruptions along the way, what with Katrina hitting right in the middle of the letter O. Post-flood we’ve slowed way down, otherwise we might have finished a year earlier.

Viewing the films has been enjoyable. Writing about the films in this venue, on the other hand, has come to seem like a monumentally silly task. I started these reviews before the disaster. Now they seem frivolous. There are so many more pressing things to write about. I’ve completed the reviews either because I value follow-through or because I’m obsessive — your call. I like to finish whatever I start, even if it is foolish.

Plenty of friends have chuckled over the notion of our alphabetical list, but actually it’s proven to be pretty good means of ordering our viewing programme. It mixes things up nicely and doesn’t require much mental effort. I’ve considered other schemes (chronological, by director, by actor, by genre) but have concluded that alphabetical is my favorite. Xy even likes it, and of course buy-in from your viewing partner is critical.

And now that we’ve finished the alphabet, we need never watch a film again. We’re done with movies forever!

Just kidding. It seems there is no end to the interesting titles out there, and I’ve continued to add to our Netflix queue, so we’re already making a second pass through the alphabet. The difference is that, as a rule, I won’t be writing about it here.

Y

Three films that start with Y.

  • The Yes Men (2004) This documentary chronicles the global adventures of a pair of ingenious and ballsy political pranksters. New Orleanians will remember these guys impersonated a HUD official and declared the re-opening of the housing projects. (That event took place after this film was produced.) Just after Katrina I was contacted by one of their operatives as a potential cameraman for a prank that never played out, wherein Yemen or somesuch offered to help with the Gulf Coast housing crisis by donating yurts, to the certain embarrassment of American government. (Sadly we are still ripe for this one.) I’ve been a fan of the Yes Men ever since their giant gold penis prank in Tampere, Finland, which I discovered (online) after a visit there in 2001. Highly recommended!
  • Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001) Two horny teenage boys and a young woman take a road trip to the beach, only it’s arty and Mexican. Pretty darn good.
  • Young Frankenstein (1974) I guess most people have seen this Mel Brooks parody, but somehow I never had. It’s OK.

So close to the end of the alphabet I can almost taste it. Tomorrow, three zeds.

X

Everybody knows that X is the coolest letter in the alphabet, yet there was only one X movie on my list: X: The Unheard Music (1985). It’s a documentary about the band, X. The band is great, but the movie is merely good with some great moments (and of course great music). I think the project suffers from trying for a punk film style, which didn’t serve the story well. But if I want mainstream music documentaries, I suppose I should watch VH1.

W

We are rapidly closing in on the end of this three-year video adventure. For those just joining us, we’ve been watching all the movies I’ve always wanted to see, but somehow never did… in alphabetical order.

We now present those titles that begin with W. That’s double-u, not Dubya. My apologies to any who might have expected ruminations on everybody’s favorite president.

We begin with the best. These first three films are each great in their own distinctive way.

  • Waiting… (2005) I give this one high marks for sentimental reasons, because it premiered at the Prytania Theater in New Orleans just six weeks post-Katrina. It was shot in Kenner. Plus, it has that smarmy Mac guy from the Apple commercials. He’s much more appealing in this movie as the lone serious role. But this is a film that is best enjoyed with high spirits and low expectations. For a teen raunch-fest, this is actually pretty good.
  • The Wicker Man (1973) Best horror film I’ve seen in a long while, maybe ever. No gore, but there are plenty of psuedo-pagan folk songs integrated right into the plot, almost enough to qualify this as a horror/musical. Supposedly there is a longer “director’s cut” that I’d like to see.
  • The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill (2005) This may be a perfect documentary. It actually made Xy cry, and that isn’t easy.

Next, here’s are some W films which I classify as “damn good”:

  • The Wire: Season 1 and Season 3: Each season of this HBO series plays like a long movie. It’s a cops and criminals story but developed to a level of realism I’ve never seen. The scope is expansive and humanizing. The first and third seasons in particular are excellent. I’ve heard the fourth season is even better, but it’s not out yet on DVD.
  • Word Wars: Through the auspices of my father-in-law, who is a competitive Scrabble player, we met Marlon, who is one of the key figures in this documentary. The genius of this film is that it make the world of competetive Scrabble fascinating.

Then we have the films that are good, but lacking the “damn” intensifier.

  • The Whales of August: I don’t remember much about this flick except that Lillian Gish was in it and some other really old people.
  • Wall Street: Greed and deception in the world of corporate raiders. This movie is very 80s.
  • The Wild Bunch: A very bloody and nihilistic Western.
  • The Wire: Season 2: The second season just wasn’t as good as the one before or after.
  • Weeds: Season 1: This Showtime series is ostensibly about drug-dealing, but the real topic is Suburbia and its discontents.
  • The Witches: A fun kid flick based on a story by the inimitable Roald Dahl.

Of course this is not the definitive list of W movies. There have been several great films that start with this letter and end with a question mark: Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Not to mention Winged Migration and Witness for the Prosecution (and Witness for that matter) and Wonder Boys and The World According to Garp.

V

There were four “V” movies on my list, and three of them were quite good. In fact, I’m not sure which of these I liked best:

  • Victim — 1961. If I said this was gay noir you’d probably get the wrong idea. It’s a taut and suspenseful drama about a time (not that long ago) when being a homosexual was literally a crime.
  • Victor Victoria — 1982. I think everyone in the world has seen this, but I hadn’t. What a treat.
  • V for Vendetta — 2006. One of the scariest films I’ve ever seen. Scary political, not scary horror.

All three of these films are highly recommended, but I particularly want to single out Victim because I think it’s less well known than the other two.

And then there was Vampire’s Kiss — 1989. Nick Cage acting crazy in a vampire flick. I didn’t care for it very much.

(Yes, we’re watching a list of movies in alphabetical order. These are the “V” movies I’d always wanted to see but never did. I didn’t list Valmont or The Virgin Suicides or Vanilla Sky or Videodrome because I’d already seen those. Of course, my favorite “V” movie ever is probably Vertigo, that great Hitchcock masterpiece from 1958.)

I’m posting about trivial stuff because I’m having trouble articulating the serious stuff that’s on my mind right now.

U

There was only one ‘U’ movie on our list: Under Fire, 1983. Nick Nolte is a photographer running around Nicaragua with Gene Hackman and Joanna Cassidy, circa 1979, during the civil war. There’s action and politics and romance and intrigue. It was even a little educational.

It was pretty good, but could have been much better. The final scene between Nolte and Cassidy was so cheesy it really took the whole thing down a notch. Still, I’d recommend checking it out.

Under Fire was a damn sight better than U-571. But it didn’t compare to The Usual Suspects or the best U movie ever, Unforgiven.

T

We continue to make our way through the alphabet, and we’re entering the homestretch.

Ordinarily I make a note of my thoughts on a movie a day or two after viewing. But with the ‘T’ movies, I didn’t. Let’s see if I can remember anything about these 15 films. Here they are in rough order of how much I liked them.

  • The Testament of Dr. Mabuse — 1933. Brilliant old German film by that famous director, Fritz Lang. This concerns a criminal genius who is so evil that his ideas continue to pervert and corrupt even for the many years when he’s catatonic in a mental hospital, and even after he dies. The concept of this character seems so deeply iconic that I can’t believe I never heard of him before. Apparently he’s had quite the fictional life in Europe, in film and literature, but has never hit it big in America for some reason.
  • Tape — 2001. Two and then three people in a hotel room, talking, pretty much in real time. That it’s gripping rather than boring is a tribute to the writer, the actors, and director Richard Linklater.
  • That Obscure Object of Desire — 1977. Subtle French surrealism, the last picture by Buñuel. The tale of an affair between an older man and a younger woman is surprisingly conventional but well-told. The surrealist conceit is that the role of the woman, Conchita, is played by two different actresses, changing from scene to scene. This was driving Xy crazy at first. I’ll confess I didn’t even notice until she pointed it out! We watched this Lundi Gras evening, and I was pleasantly surprised by the resonance between Buñuel’s work and the rituals of Societé de Sainte Anne which we observed the next day.
  • To Sir, with Love — 1966. This is one of those classic movies that even I can’t believe I never saw. But that’s the point of this project, after all. Even though I hadn’t seen it, I knew what it was about, and I imagine everyone else does too, so I won’t bother to describe it, except to say it’s a fine film.
  • Trouble in Paradise — 1932. By way of contrast, consider this film. According to Netflix, none of my friends have rented or rated this movie. Anyone who likes comedies of this vintage should definitely check it out. It’s classic Ernst Lubitsch, witty and sophisticated and sharp and stylish and funny. The story concerns two thieves who fall in love and combine forces to rob a perfume executive. Nothing too serious, but great fun.
  • Time After Time — 1979. I vaguely remember the hype around this movie when it came out. I was in middle school then. Almost thirty years later, I finally get to see it, and what a treat this movie is. Jack the Ripper travels through time from Victorian England to contemporary San Francisco, pursued by H. G. Wells. Need I say any more? Oh yes: Malcolm McDowell!
  • Touch of Evil — 1958. I know some people are put off by Charlton Heston’s impersonation of a Mexican, but if you can get past that, this is a pretty good little film noir. Actually I found the nutty hotel clerk more offensive to my intelligence than Heston’s pseudo-Mexican turn. However, Orson Wells and Marlene Dietrich and the general atmosphere of seedy corruption more than make up for these shortcomings.
  • Tin Men — 1987. Danny DeVito and Nick Cage play rival aluminum siding salesmen in Baltimore. Pretty funny and engaging.
  • Tenacious D: Complete Masterworks — 2003. A grab bag of music videos, concert footage, short films, mini-documentaries, and so forth, featuring the world’s greatest rock and roll band.
  • Tom Jones — 1963. The cinematic definition of the word “rollicking.” Albert Finney runs wild through merrie olde England, but this is very much a film of the early 60s. There’s something charmingly disconcerting about an actor in period dress winking at the camera.
  • Tron — 1982. My friend Greg had a cat named Tron. This film is dated and goofy, but those could be endearing qualities if you’re in the right mood.
  • The Thing — 1982. Straight up science fiction action adventure.
  • Tuck Everlasting — 2002. The idea of a family of immortals hiding away in the woods is immensely compelling to me. This film adaptation of the children’s novel is serviceable but nothing special.
  • Truly, Madly, Deeply — 1991. Maybe it was because a friend of mine recently passed away, but I found this tale of a woman longing for her departed husband and his return from the other world kind of mawkish and creepy. The again, maybe it was the guy’s mustache.
  • Time Code — 2000. Four intertwined stories are shown at the same time on the four quadrants of the screen. I find experiments like this interesting. The amazing thing is that this is watchable at all. Alas, the stories themselves are forgettable, leaving only a memory of the experiment itself.

Obligatory footnote: You might wonder why don’t mention such notable ‘T’ movies as The Three Musketeers and Three Kings and To Be or Not to Be and To Kill a Mockingbord and Trainspotting and Tampopo and This Is Spinal Tap and Time Bandits and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and The Triplets of Belleville. Well, it’s simply because I’d already seen those movies. The main focus of this project is watching movies I haven’t seen. Although come to think of it, I had already seen Tron, probably in the theater when it was first released, but I didn’t remember much of it.

Netflix Friends

I read Dangerblond’s musings on how to put a man to sleep. (Personally I think the Architectures documentary series sounds fascinating, and I don’t think it would put me to sleep at all.) Anyway, I invited Danger to be on my Netflix friends list. She accepted, and according to Netflix we have a 71% similarity in cinematic taste. That puts her second only to HammHawk (84%) out of the nine friends on my list.

Then I noticed Netflix provides a second method for adding friends, via a link. I’m inclined to regard anyone who bothers to read this as a friend, so I’m putting the link here. If you subscribe to Netflix, you can be my friend just by clicking.

Another friend of mine has expressed skepticism about this whole proposition. She doesn’t want me looking at whatever movies she’s renting. But the appeal for me is not snooping someone’s queue. What I like about the system is that you can see how your friends rated different movies. You can also leave notes about movies, but they’ve fiddled with this system over time, and in my opinion it could use a little more fiddling.

Of course this is just another distraction from the problems we face. The world and our city is going to hell in the proverbial hand basket. Are we are amusing ourselves to death? Or are these distractions necessary to maintain sanity and thus being able to fight the good fight? I don’t know anymore. I just know I like chilling with some good video every now and again.

R

Xy and I are continuing our alphacinematic odyssey, at a much reduced pace. I don’t have as many evenings to watch movies as I once did. Nevertheless, it remains a welcome distraction, and we’ve finally made it through the letter R. It took us five weeks to watch eleven movies. They were mostly pretty good, but nothing really blew me away like Raising Arizona or Raiders of the Lost Ark or Real Life. If you’ve never seen Real Life, Albert Brooks’ 1979 directorial debut, I highly recommend checking it out. It’s the best.

I really enjoyed these:

  • Ray (2004) — Good story, great soundtrack. Especially fun to spot all the New Orleans locations.
  • The Right Stuff (1983) — Entertaining. The humor keep this from descending into grotesque nationalistic chest-thumping.
  • Room at the Top (1959) — A good old-fashioned melodrama, laden with class tension. But the version of the DVD that I got was one of the worst film transfers I’ve seen.
  • Red Beard (1965) — Akira Kurosawa does a film about dedicated doctors. Masterful, but too long and melodramatic to be a masterpiece.

These were decent:

  • Revolution OS (2002) — A doucumentary about open source/free software. If you can get past the geekery, there are some revolutionary ideas here.
  • Rear Window (1954) — I saw this Hitchcock film in the theater when it was re-released — early 80s, I guess. I think I was in high school at the time. I didn’t remember too many details except that I thought it was good. Upon watching it again I found it to be slow-paced and a bit of a yawn. It’s classic stuff, but I wasn’t really feeling it.
  • Ruthless People (1986) — Delightfully silly.
  • The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming (1966) — More silliness, but entertaining.
  • Richard III (1955) — Highbrow historical stuff.
  • Richard Pryor: Live in Concert (1955) — His impression of a deer in the woods is priceless.

There was only one R movie that I didn’t care for:

  • Ran (1985) — This is the first Akira Kurosawa flick that didn’t blow me away. In fact, I found it kind of tedious. (It didn’t help that I got the lousy Fox Lorber version of the DVD.)

Q

There was only one Q movie on my alphabetical list: Quest for Fire (1982). If I had time for research I suspect I’d discover some serious philosophical issues with this film, but all the same I was deeply impressed by the ambition and imagination at work here. The dawn of humanity is a fascinating topic, rarely touched upon in cinema. I even went so far as to watch this film a second time with the director’s commentary, something I rarely do, and it remained a compelling experience. I have to give this one top marks for sheer audacity.

Unfortunately I added Quatermass and the Pit (1968) to my list at the last minute. Great science fiction concept, poorly executed. This one is crying out for a remake.

Of course, my list does not include films I’ve aleady seen. I’d already suffered through Q: The Winged Serpent, for example, many years ago. It’s not campy, it’s just bad.

P

It’s taken a while but we’ve finally viewed all the “P” movies on our list.

I liked these a lot:

  • Patton — 1970. Great character study.
  • Persona — 1967. A serious avantgarde Swedish art film that’s perplexing and mysterious and somehow not boring. It’s actually quite gripping, beautiful and painful to watch, even though I didn’t understand it.
  • Picnic at Hanging Rock — 1975. Mysterious and atmospheric.
  • A Place in the Sun — 1951. Compelling performances, and some interesting editing.
  • Il Postino — 1995. Sweet.
  • Pretty Baby — 1978. Decadent and disturbing, yet weirdly nostalgic.

These were kind of a mixed bag:

  • The Philadelphia Story — 1940. A little long and a little dated, but still pretty funny.
  • People Will Talk — 1951. Cary Grant is annoying here, and the film as a whole is smug and smarmy, but the supporting characters save it from being a complete waste. I confess the political subtext eluded me completely.
  • Possessed — 1947. Engrossing psycho-noir.
  • The Point — 1971. Psychedelic kiddie cartoon adventure.
  • The Postman Always Rings Twice — 1981. I think I liked the original better.
  • Prizzi’s Honor — 1985. Mildly amusing, but nothing special. Very 80’s.
  • Punch Drunk Love — 2002. Artsy, beautiful, fun, loveably stupid. Sandler’s best film.
  • Prime Suspect — 1991-2004. I don’t much care for police procedurals, but this TV series with Helen Mirren is eminently watchable. The fourth season lags a bit, but the sixth season more than makes up for it with hugely improved cinematography. Mirren’s character is compelling, but what really engaged me was the long form and the social issues blended into each case.
  • The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes — 1970. Fun, but could have been better.

And these, I did not enjoy so much:

  • Peeping Tom — 1960. Comparisons are inevitable, but this pales next to Psycho.
  • The Pawnbroker — 1965. A good film, maybe even great, but brutally depressing, and I didn’t enjoy it.
  • A Piece of the Action — 1977. With these stars you’d think this would be top-notch. Intriguing start, but second half is progressively more awful.

Note: These are the P films I’d wanted to see but never had; we didn’t watch such greats as Platoon, The Player, The Prisoner, The Producers, Pulp Fiction or Psycho because I’ve already seen ‘em. And who could forget Plan Nine from Outer Space?

O

Many ages ago, in my pre-Katrina life, I had embarked on an cinematic odyssey via Netflix, to see all the movies I’d always wanted to see but never had — in alphabetical order. Many people have thought this was an odd way to proceed, but it provides a nice mix. I’d get bored if I viewed my list in chronological order or by director or genre.

We were almost finished with the letter “O” when we evacuated. I left three Netflix DVDs downstairs, where they floated around in the floodwaters for a couple weeks. When Michael and I cleaned out the house, I found them and set them aside. Later, I cleaned them off and discovered they still played. Xy and I watched them and then returned them to Netflix and reactivated our account.

And so, at last, we have finished the letter O. I hereby recommence my microcapsule reviews. I’m sure Ebert and that other guy are trembling in their boots.

Top drawer:

Good:

Not bad:

Ugh:

Footnotes: These are the O films I’d wanted to see but never had; I’m not reviewing O Brother Where Art Thou? or The Original Kings of Comedy or The Others or Our Man Flint (ugh) because I’ve already seen ‘em. Also, props to Netflix for the way they handled the disaster: They automatically suspended my account, and when I reactivated, they gave me a free month of service.

N

Strange — there were only six movies on our list that started with “N.”

Good:

  • Night and Fog — 1955. Short and brutal documentary about the Holocaust. Why hasn’t the narration been translated into multiple languages?
  • Nashville — 1975. I’ve come to the conclusion that Robert Altman’s flicks just don’t translate to the small screen very well. I could see the genius of this, and I was impressed by it, but I kind of had to extrapolate the experience which was really meant for the big screen.
  • Never Mind the Bollocks — 2002. There’s nothing punk about this documentary, except the subject matter: surely the greatest rock album ever. The feature runs less than one hour, but the extras are every bit as interesting.
  • Naqoyqatsi — 2002. Think of it as a long music video.

Mixed bag:

  • No Man’s Land — 2001. Soldiers get caught in no man’s land during the Bosnian Conflict. Good premise, lackluster execution. Worth seeing once.
  • Napoleon Dynamite — 2004. Ummmm…. I really didn’t know what to think of this. I found it sort of stylistically confusing, and that was kind of nice. But it also seemed kind of repellent and stupid. Seeing the geeky protagonist get slammed up against the lockers brought back memories of high school.

M

I already posted my thoughts on the seven “Man” films. Here’s the rest of the letter M. This letter was plagued by an abundance of technical problems.

Note: Of course, I loved Microcosmos and The Maltese Falcon and Magnolia and Midnight Cowboy and Minority Report and Manufacturing Consent and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and my all-time favorite Murder, My Sweet. But those are films I’ve already seen. The following are films I wanted to see, but hadn’t, until now.

Recommended:

  • Malcolm X — 1992. I can’t believe I never sawa this before. Parts of it seemed familiar, but maybe that’s because of my vague familiarity with Malcolm X’s story. Fascinating stuff.
  • My Life as a Dog — 1985. Sweet, sad, superb. And Swedish. I actually did see this at the Ryder film series back in the 80s, and it was every bit as good as I remembered.

Good:

  • Manhattan — 1979. I think this is Woody Allen’s best film, at least of the one’s I’ve seen.
  • Monsoon Wedding — 2001. Charming. I love weddings, and I’ve always wanted to visit India.
  • Mountains of the Moon — 1990. Uncritically celebratory of Europe’s exploitation of Africa, but an enjoyable tale nonetheless.
  • Mrs. Brown — 1997. Politically suspect, with its adulatory view of royalty, but another enjoyable tale of Victorian England.
  • Mr. Deeds Goes to Town — 1936. Don’t care much for Gary Cooper. He was OK in this, but it’s very much Frank Capra’s movie.

Mixed:

  • Marnie — 1964. A not-very-good film by Alfred Hitchcock is still marginally interesting.
  • Marat/Sade — 1967. Complex and challenging. Radical play marred by bad transfer to DVD.
  • Matewan — 1987. I wanted to like this movie a lot more. Great subject matter (the Coal Wars of the early 1920s), but it deserves a better telling. Another inferior transfer to DVD.
  • Melvin and Howard — 1980. A good-natured loser gives a ride to an old bum who turns out to be Howard Hughes. I think I would have enjoyed this more if I’d known it was based on a true story. But really, this is mostly the story of Melvin’s life, and it seems somewhat aimless. The movie could have used more Howard and less Melvin.
  • The Mystery of Picasso — 1956. Watch Picasso paint a series of twenty works. That’s it — nothing but painting! I preferred the commentary tracks to the music. Probably of greater interest to painters and art students.

Disappointing:

  • The Maids — 1974. I found this Jean Genet play barely watchable. Another inferior transfer to DVD.
  • McCabe & Mrs. Miller — 1971. Altman’s alt.western flick. Again, not a great transfer to DVD. I think I might have enjoyed this more if I was strapped down in a movie theater and forced to may close attention to every detail. As it was, I found the hwole thing kind of a yawner.
  • Medium Cool — 1969. Required viewing for any serious student of the 60s, but mostly boring. Maybe I should have listened to the commentary instead of the regular soundtrack.
  • My Man Godfrey — 1936. Starts off interestingly, with some class tension, but quickly degenerates into shrill and tedious farce. Oh, it is supposed to be a screwball comedy. Overexposed film print, too.

Not sure what to think:

  • Mephisto — 1981. A brilliant German stage actor sells out to the Nazis. When we watched this I was a little drunk, and it was late, and I started nodding off. Plus, the DVD skipped about 25 minutes, so I think we missed a major chunk of the story. But I didn’t care enough to rectify the problem, so that tells you something.
  • McKenzie Break — 1970. After I put this one in the player I heard a loud pop and the screen said, “Bad disk.” When I ejected, I discovered the DVD was severely cracked! Could have gotten a replacment, but I decided I didn’t really want to watch this war movie.

Hmmm… Looks like we’ve made it halfway through the alphabet.

Man Movies

We’ve still got a lot of movies that start with “M” on our list, but we’ve muddled our way through the manly films — that is, films that start with the word “man.”

Bestest:

Quite good:

  • A Man for All Seasons — 1966. The King has big shoulder pads.
  • The Man Who Wasn’t There — 2001. Great atmosphere. Great mood. Great look. Fun to watch, at least if you’re a noir-lovin’ fool like me. But it veers into gratuitous weirdness toward the end.

Interesting:

  • Man with the Movie Camera — 1929. Fast-paced montage, with no narrative, plot, dialog or characters. Great soundtrack.
  • Man of Aran — 1934. First talkie by the “Father of the Documenary,” this looks like documentary, but is actually fiction. A deeply flawed but nonetheless fascinating piece of cinema. The story of the film is even more intriguing than the film itself.

Not so good:

  • Man on Fire — 2004. Good performances. Artsy production (which I liked). But this is a shamelessly manipulative revenge fantasy, a nasty piece of trickery. It’s like emotional blackmail. It left me feeling dirty.
  • The Man Who Fell to Earth — 1976. Kind of boring, not to mention confusing, but stylish.