Tuesday, November 30, 2010


(the best thing about watching instantly on my iPod? Being able to easily capture screenshots like the above)

Ironically enough, immediately after posting my discontent with Netflix Watch Instantly, I read the Indiewire coverage of the Gotham Awards.... and saw that Asch had snagged "Breakthrough Director" for Holy Rollers.

I suddenly remembered seeing Holy Rollers available via Netflix Watch Instantly.

What did I do?

I immediately checked Netflix and started streaming the film via my iPod Netflix app. What do you know? No problems at all. No buffering. Some sections suffered from very poor video quality (weird pixelation), but I enjoyed seeing the film.

Holy Rollers is a good enough "rise and fall of an amateur gangster" life story with an Orthodox Jewish twist. I liked it. Jesse Eisenberg continues to be one of my favorite young actors. He is at least as good here as he is in The Social Network even if this isn't quite as ambitious a film as that one is. [To be clear, TSN is a much better film than this one is.]

And Netflix Watch Instantly? It's a great thing when it works. Like it did tonight. And I'm glad to have seen this interesting film that seems to have gone under most critical radar. BUT, still, the Netflix selection has a long, long, long, long waaay to go...

Against the stream

A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.
-G. K. Chesterton, ripped out of context from The Everlasting Man

I am not as enthusiastic about Netflix Watch Instantly as others.

Streaming video may be the wave of the future. It does seem likely at this point. The Cable/Satellite "bundle" model will hopefully die.

For almost ten years now, I've said that I would be willing to pay at least $10 a month for Turner Classic Movies. For the past ten years, this has not been an option. I can either pay $50 or more for a bundle of channels that I actively despise or I can live without TCM. I've chosen to live without TCM.

I like streaming video. I don't like the limitations of streaming video. The buffering and the poor to average a/v quality are far away from any point at which the format could rival DVD. Out in the country, I've got a decent high speed network set up now, but Frontier's DSL lines just can't always handle streaming video, especially at peak hours.

Besides the quality, the biggest issue I have with streaming via Netflix is that the Watch Instantly selection is crap. Sure, it's decent enough if you're not too discerning about what bad 80s film you'll watch for nostalgia's sake or if you just want to catch up on a lot of TV shows from the past decade. That's not why I like Netflix.

The reason that Netflix is appealing at all to me is the relatively inexpensive ease of access that it provides to nearly every classic and foreign film available on DVD. Their selection for movie rental in any format is an unrivaled achievement which is, quite simply, astounding. We are currently living in a "golden age" of film availability. I can't imagine going to a "streaming only" option that meant limited options. If I have to deal with a limited selection, I'd rather go back to renting at the local independently owned video store.

I realize that I'm in the .00001 percent of people on Netflix who are renting films from 1929 exclusively. Seriously, the next 20 films in my queue are all from 1929. I'm amazed that that is even possible. Ten years ago, I doubt if I could have found 5 of these titles to watch AND I would have had to pay a ton of money just for the privilege to see them in what were probably sub-par mutilated versions on VHS or bad 16mm prints. DVDs had been around for about three years, but the opening up of studio back catalogs to the extent that we see now was still a ways in the future. DVD has now arrived, more or less. Streaming has a long way to go.

Netflix Watch Instantly offers 4 feature films from 1929 via streaming, as far as I can tell.

Pabst's Pandora's Box is there in what is most definitely not the Criterion transfer and is for whatever reason 2 minutes shorter than the DVD version.

Hitch's Blackmail is the same so-so transfer that I watched on an Image DVD.

Dwan's The Iron Mask is a mutilation, the travesty of a re-cut done in 1951 that cuts out all of the inter-titles and replaces this with voiceover narration by Fairbanks, Jr. This re-cut version clocks in 31 minutes shorter than Dwan's cut. I can guarantee you right now that there were not 31 minutes of title screens in the film.

Vertov's Man With a Movie Camera is also present. It appears intact, but I can't tell.

That's it. Those four are my options for "instantly" (I have to use the parentheses since "instant" takes on a new meaning on those nights when buffering is incessant) viewing films from 1929.

Part of the thrill of having DVDs is also that there is still a physical object to be handled and to be shared with others. CR5 Movie Club started as a DVD Exchange Experiment where we would swap DVDs for a week. I suppose that swapping flash drives would have worked just as well, but something seems lacking. Still, I could get over this if I had to.

My real problem with digital delivery at the moment is that it currently leads to less access, not more. I'm also not sure why I'm being asked to pay more for my DVD plan than the Streaming folks are being asked to pay if all of that extra money is being used to subsidize the cost of streaming video. Why not offer a cheaper DVD-only plan as well for those of us who think of streaming video as a nice novelty at the moment, but can really live without it? Moving from a huge DVD library to a relatively tiny streaming library just doesn't make sense to me.

I'm not too pessimistic about the future of film availability. I'm still waiting for that TCM-only subscription plan. When that arrives, I'll have the biggest dish on any roof this side of Hollywood.


Ben, I've enjoyed your recent posts. If you didn't notice yet, check my sidebar here. I've made you an honorary CR5 Movie Club Member! Hopefully, Brandon will give you a warm welcome soon. I've given up on Jason. He's always running off with that hussy Facebook.

Brandon, I'm off to finally watch that Arcade Fire video RIGHT NOW!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Opposable Thumbs

I just watched the trailer for Source Code.  My opinion?  It looks pretty awful.  I'll still see it and hope for the best.

Brandon, my friend Ben just started posting about movies.  I'm hoping that he'll keep it up.  Check him out here and give him some encouragement:


Tuesday, November 23, 2010


The Killing My Brain Cells One Cartoon At a Time Top Ten List

10) The Herculoids

The Herculoids, Space Ghost, Thundarr, Birdman, a few more. Hannah Barberra had the stupidest superheroes of all. As always, H-B barely animates their material and the stories are always lame. I love these shows.

9) G.I. Joe

I watched a lot of G.I. Joe when I was younger. I was a real patriot. I also watched a lot of Transformers, which makes me a robot in disguise. TAKE THAT BRAIN CELLS!

8) Wacky Races

We all knew that the races were rigged, but racing never got any better than this. I've never cared for NASCAR because it has never quite been wacky enough. I was a huge fan of the USA Network Cartoon Express. If you don't know what that is, then you missed the train.

7) Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids

"This is Bill Cosby comin' at you with music and fun,
and if you're not careful you may learn something before it's done.
So let's get ready, OK? Hey, hey, hey!"

6) The Smurfs

The Smurfs probably helped my grammar more than any of my schooling. Smurf you.

5) Shirt Tales

This show was based on greeting card characters. How stupid is that? I won't celebrate Mother's Day, but I love this stupid show.

4) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Turtle Power! I aspire to be a party dude.

3) Tiny Toon Adventures/Animaniacs

Irreverant humor. Almost a throwback to the glory days of WB animation.

2) DuckTales

Maybe the best comics-to-tv adaptation out there. There was a brief after-school Disney cartoon revival in the early '90s. There were also some great WB cartoons, including the Batman animated series.

1) The Simpsons

I was gathered around the boob tube with my family for the series premiere of this, the most faithfully brilliant of all brain-dead television animation. I watched most seasons up until the end of college, at the point when my TV access wasn't regular. I haven't kept up, but I do catch an episode now and then. The Simpsons is one of the most consistently brilliant television shows of all time.

Then again, what do I know? All of my brain cells are long gone from watching too many cartoons.

There are at least 100 other shows that I could name. I could write about Pirates of Dark Water or my long teenage flirtation with Anime.

I wasted a lot of time watching bad cartoons, most much worse than what I name above.

I regret that I didn't spend my childhood learning many real skills. But I don't really regret that I watched any of these cartoons. Animation is a marvelous example of creaturely sub-creation of worlds.

If you really wanted to get technical, I would insist that all motion pictures are animations. Really, all films consist of roughly 24 frames of still photographs projected at a speed of 1 second, creating an illusion of movement that is never really there. It has become easy to do this with photography. That anyone at all is willing to do this with hand-drawn cels is a mark of beautiful artistic determination. Or the mark of someone devoid of brain cells.

I take my stand with the deranged animators. I can do no other. God help me.

Because I realized I hadn't written at all about Able Edwards, I decided not to write about Able Edwards.

I realized that I never wrote that I watched Able Edwards about a month ago. It's an interesting film that's worth watching. I was reminded of it as I was researching Nintendo DSi games and came across the game Nintendogs. Read any review of Nintendogs and then think about how different that experience is from loving a live dog. Now you know what Able Edwards is about.

So, why was I looking at DSi games? No, I don't have a DSi though I've had my eye on the DS since '05. I've always been a Gameboy fan, since the first model way back when. I bought an Advance the day it came out. I eventually bought an SP. I lost enthusiasm because I didn't seem to enjoy any of the games that came out besides the almost always great Zelda titles. The DS (and specifically the DSi) look great and the games that I've seen really seem innovative, pushing the boundaries of puzzle gaming in particular.

So, why was I looking at DSi games? Because I felt good about myself after getting rid of even more DVDs at SoundGoRound today and making $60. While at SGR, I was looking at all of their videogames.

I'm thinking about videogames today. I'm one of too many young punks that think that gaming, both board and video, can be an aesthetic experience. The game of Go is not only a mind-blowing work of interactive art, it is a masterpiece. That's the most obvious example. Chess is another. But there are plenty of contemporary examples at a lesser level as we see a flowering of game design right now in the present. I've spent the past 5 years getting to know contemporary boardgames and I definitely have a preference for boardgames. Still, even if I don't play them as much, I respect videogames and have kept up-to-date with at least basic news and advancements in videogaming. I'm really eager to see a Nintendo 3DS in action next year.

Several months ago, I read a review of Red Dead Redemption over at A House Next Door. Maybe it is pointing the way toward the future of video gaming. And I really, really want to play this game so much that I have been tempted to buy an Xbox just for this one game. But again, maybe we're in Able Edwards territory.

Finally, some loose conversation ends...

Ben, of course I went home and watched all three seasons of True Blood immediately. There's only so much that I can admit to at a time here. Give me a few months and I'll be posting about my live action roleplaying sessions of my fan-fic script for season 4.

Brandon, it's not quite what you intended, but I'm preparing a Top Ten list of my favorite animated television shows of all time. Partially this is in response to my friend Matt allowing his wife to write complete drivel like the following on her blog: "We don't watch cartoon movies, but rather borrow/rent movies with real people. That has always been our preference. I can actually *feel* myself losing brain cells when I watch cartoons, so I don't. So our children can sing word for word songs from Hello Dolly and Fiddler on the Roof but don't have a clue what Ice Age or Toy Story is about."

I could respond to something like this by citing a dozen intelligent animated feature films and why they are worthy of attention. Instead, I want to revel in that basest of all entertainment options, the Saturday Morning Cartoon. And don't get me started on Hello Dolly or Fiddler on the Roof.

Matt, you heard me. And Troeg's Elf Ale is a disappointment.

Why isn't this in production right now? Why tease me?


Saturday, November 20, 2010

Experiencing 1929

It's no secret that I watch more movies than Abigail does. If I wasn't so lazy, I'd go back through these posts and figure out a percentage. Even doing that, though, would be a way of avoiding real work while Abby does something productive.

Mostly, I watch movies alone after she's fallen asleep or early in the morning before anyone has woken up. Sometimes, if I have a day off, I'll sneak upstairs in the middle of the day for a nap with the baby, which usually turns into me staying awake watching a movie.

In an effort at matrimonial concord, I've decided to stop spending so much time catching up on the crap movies of the present. I can name on one hand the films from 2010 that I think are worth caring about and even out of those I haven't really fallen in love with anything besides a few isolated shots/scenes/sequences here and there. So, I'm mostly done with 2010 for now. I'm going back to...


And I'm bringing Abby with me!

Together, we'll slowly make our way through the movies of 1929. When we're done with that, 1930. Then, 1931. Then... well, you get the idea.

I was directly inspired by Peter Bogdanovich's post about his favorite American films from 1929 (as an aside, his 1930 list was just published today). Additionally, I've taken the broader International lists of Ed Gonzalez and Jonathan Rosenbaum as further guides along the way. The Wikipedia Year in Film lists are also quite helpful. (Brandon, am I missing any other good lists?)

I was also directly inspired by Brandon's ambitious '40s-'50s project. That's pretty much what I'm doing here; only slower, and in chronological order, starting with the beginnings of the talkie revolution.

AND, as a treat for my few friends/readers here and as a special treat to myself, I'm dragging Abby along for the ride.

I'm not sure if I can get her to write much, but I have convinced her to keep a ranked list to accompany mine.

Will our marriage survive the stress of disagreeing strongly about movies? Or will we find a perfect harmony numbered 1 through 10?

So far we've watched three films from 1929. What I think I'm going to do is post updated 1929 lists three movies at a time. So, here I'll be posting our top 3's. Next, I'll post top 6's. Then Top 9's. Then, a genuine top ten list with more and more movies falling off the list each time we update another batch of 3.

So, what were the first three films?

In the order we watched them...

Spite Marriage is a modestly funny Buster Keaton vehicle. There are a couple of really hilarious moments (the beard, the stuffed animal) but the majority of the film resides in steady smile territory.

The Iron Mask was the last film that Alan Dwan and Douglas Fairbanks worked on together. The action has that sparkling quality that Dwan and Fairbanks had perfected. Exhilarating! All this action almost makes me want to exercise more than my eyeballs. This movie certainly has the best ending of the three we watched. I was almost tearing up with joy.

Hallelujah! is King Vidor's all-black semi-musical about a man's fall, his being lifted up, falling harder than before, then receiving unmerited grace far richer than he deserves. There are some sho 'nuff racist moments in the film, but I think the blame for this has more to do with the times in general than with Vidor's intentions. This film is the most visually sophisticated of these three films. Vidor knows how to shoot familial tenderness and redemption and he knows how to shoot lust and rage. After seeing this and Show People (1928) earlier this year, I'm convinced that King Vidor is one of the great filmmakers of the U.S.

We let the girls watch The Iron Mask with us and they all really enjoyed it. I sometimes chuckle when people think that my love for classic films means that I have a shelf full of family-friendly titles ready to recommend. Surely, the past has many more family-friendly offerings than the present, but a quick glance at a list of titles for 1929 will show anyone that these films are not really for children. I've got about 20 films from 1929 lined up to watch. Many of these have really adult themes and too many of them deal with that perennial cinematic problem, infidelity. Needless to say, it's good to find an exciting adventure movie that the girls can watch. For the sake of fun, I'll keep a list of the girls favorites based on what we've let them watch with us.

Enough. Here's the first set of lists:

1929 Top Ten - The Girls
1) The Iron Mask

1929 Top Ten - John
1) Hallelujah!
2) The Iron Mask
3) Spite Marriage

1929 Top Ten - Abigail
1/2) Hallelujah!/The Iron Mask
3) Spite Marriage

That's right. Her first attempt at ranking movies by year and she waffles. A tie! Right now, the first half of Hallelujah! and the final moments of The Iron Mask are wrestling in her grey matter for supremacy. Will this stalemate last forever? Who will eventually win?

Stay Tuned! Same Blog Time! Same Blog Channel!

Gently down the stream.

I've been enjoying watching streaming video via Netflix and Hulu lately.

Half an episode of Glee was enough to confirm my suspicion that I am not at all this show's target audience. Ugh.

This year's Treehouse of Terror episode is as good as always.

The Sweeney Todd episode of The Office was enjoyable enough.

The pilot of Lois & Clark is cute and just fine, but I won't keep watching.

Spectacle: Elvis Costello With... is the best interview show I had never heard of even though it's two years old now. I've only watched the Elton John episode so far.

This past Saturday night, I saw my first episode of True Blood while staying at my friend Ben's sister's house in Erie, PA.

I have to admit that I had a great time watching it, partly because I was in a silly mood and partly because of its irresistible trashy allure.

Ben reminded me that the Harlan Ellison movie, Dreams With Sharp Teeth, was available via Netflix: Watch Instantly. Ellison is always interesting, but this documentary fails in the same way that so many biographical documentaries fail, not realizing that it would be more interesting just to listen to the subject, here Ellison, speak for an hour and a half than to watch this documentary. The attempted informational/educational structure of the doc gets in the way of any sustained entertainment that Ellison could have achieved.

Back From Hell: A Tribute to Sam Kinison does a better job of letting Kinison's material speak for itself, with some adoring commentary from Kinison's younger comedian peers. Still, you're probably better off just watching a Kinsion concert video instead of this doc.

It might be that I'm cynical toward both these docs because I'm already familiar with the "characters" depicted, but I think that there's more than that disappointing me. Both of these only offer a shallow surface introduction.

The Oath, on the other hand, slowly and methodically peels back more layers of its subject, deepening and widening the mystery of the person(s) under examination, always revealing more humanity, playing with audience expectations and delivering a sober sort of thriller with a sad, conflicted release at its climax. I'm hoping to watch it again soon. I'm hoping you guys watch it soon and let me know what you think.

I watched the first episode of Battlestar Galactica. I understand the appeal and have multiple friends that love the show, but there's no way I can start another long series now. I'll slowly make my way through Smallville for now and maybe, maybe I'll try to tackle The Wire sooner or later. Later. I've also continued to slowly make my way through Star Trek: The Original Series, but I usually fall asleep to whatever episode I try to watch.

Right now, I've started a new film watching project that will take up the rest of the year and probably continue into next year. More about that in the next post.

I've continued to get rid of DVDs and am starting to feel much better about the shape of my collection, though there's still plenty of weeding to do. I think I'm mostly cured of the "impulse buy" mentality, but, then again, there haven't been any "going out of business" sales to tempt me for quite a while. There has been the ongoing dreaded B&N 50% off Criterion sale that is so damned hard to resist, but I haven't given in to that particular weakness yet this time.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Worth a listen...

Ted Murphy, the only formal film teacher I've ever known, gives a survey of satanic representations in art culminating in Nolan's The Dark Knight...


Definitely worth a listen or two.

Unrelated, it looks like America, America is definitely coming to DVD...


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Blood makes noise.

We finished Season 1 of Smallville. Smallville at its core is about family and friends and specifically about a boy becoming a man within the family instruction he has received and in terms of the blood running through his veins.

The Weight of Blood.

I'm thinking of blood due to Winter's Bone, which is among my favorite films of the year. Winter's Bone is about blood relations. About the power of blood. Like the best crime films, Bone is about nobility and honor. There are kings and queens, princes and princesses, in the hills of Arkansas and other such places, whether recognized by any civil law or not. The weight of blood makes its demands on its own terms. "I wouldn't know what to do without the weight of you two on my back." Our blood obligations define us whether we accept the responsibility or not.

Of course the film medium allows for visual representations of this. In A Nightmare on Elm St., the ridiculous remake, our hero Rooney drowns in a hall of blood as the grotesque villain attempts to settle a perceived blood debt. The movie is mostly stupid, but I enjoyed it more than about half a dozen other films from this year.

Gentleman Broncos is about gonads and mammary cannons and I didn't quite like it. Maybe Hess likes his characters, I'm pretty sure he does, but he does a disservice to both homeschool communities and sf communities over the course of this film. I know that there are creeps and weirdos and bad people in both of these communities, but my experience in both communities has been overwhelmingly positive. But maybe I'm missing the point of this film.

I'd make more sense and tie this all back together to blood, but I'm too distracted by those mammary cannons.

I fell asleep halfway through Sweetgrass and still haven't finished it. That's bad, isn't it? Bloody sheep.

I watched the first episode of The Walking Dead. Even being prepared by reading the comic, I was surprised by the graphic violence. A bullet through the head doesn't mean what it used to mean before the zombie apocalypse. Heavy blood.

My friend Matt helped me get shared in-law Internet access out in the sticks. I've signed back up for the $8.99 Netflix plan. My first Watch Instantly title: The Oath.

Okay, I'm annoyed. I tried writing about The Oath twice, but my iPod has chosen to delete my writing twice. Strange.

Anyhow, it's my favorite film of 2010. Sorry I don't feel like writing things all over again.

Here's a Martin Luther quote from his On war against the Turk:

"It is said, indeed, that the Turks are, among themselves, faithful and friendly and careful to tell the truth. I believe that, and I think that they probably have more fine virtues in them than that. No man is so bad that there is not something good in him."

In context, Luther has been defining Islam as satanic- built on lies, murder, and hatred of women, but here he pauses to point out apparent virtues.

[It should go without saying that I don't agree with Luther in all that he says, especially his historicist eschatology and his penchant for rabid insults, but, as always, I respect Luther as the mad genius and genuine servant of God that he was. There is plenty of wisdom applicable to today's circumstances to be found in Luther's stance on Islam and his call for Christian prayer and repentance to precede and correspond with any possible military action.]

We know (or ought to know) that these men depicted in The Oath are our enemies. The beauty of The Oath is that it goes far in helping us to understand and maybe even begin to love and respect our enemies even as we must meet them on the various battlefields yet to emerge.

Okay, I'm done writing this and posting it immediately so I don't lose anything else, especially since I've veered off into talking about Luther instead of the actual content of The Oath.