What's It All About?

"I love writing about movies when I can discover something in themwhen I can get something out of them that I can share with people." - Pauline Kael

Certainly there are loads of other movie and TV blogs out there in Internet Land. And yes, some are dedicated to streaming entertainment, with more than a few cataloging Netflix and its Instant library.

But if web comments and anecdotal evidence are any indication, for each site there are scores of current (and former) Netflix subscribers who, having exhausted the more popular and trendy online titles (I'm looking at you, World War Z, Silver Linings Playbook, and House of Games), are stumped about what to watch next. Sure, the site's much-hyped algorithm does a good job of making Suggestions For You based on movies you've rated. But over timeand assuming you bother to rate everything you've watchedthose can become a self-generating feedback loop. And what if you're looking to step out of your previously established comfort zone, but all the low-hanging fruit from the Popular, New, and Similar categories has been picked? There are only so many movies your friends can recommend that you haven't already seen.

Meanwhile, there are tons of great films and TV shows regularly sneaking unheralded onto (and sometimes off of) Netflix Instant. How to sift the gold from the dross (and admittedly there's lots of dross)? Or heck, even the silver or bronze? After all, not every movie can rate 5 stars. But a 3- or 4-star underdog can feel awfully welcome after an overdose of 1- and 2-star misfires. Sometimes it's just a matter of expectations: an overhyped classic is just waiting to disappoint, while a charming sleeper from nowhere will almost always be a pleasant surprise.

I'm not saying Netflix is the be-all, end-all. Clearly it's missing key titles, especially in the more recent and classic categories. The company faces a major obstacle in the ever-escalating streaming costs demanded by Hollywood studios and cable companies, many of which are extremely protective of their content (HBO is a prime exampleever notice how expensive their DVDs are?). As a result, there are thousands of Instant titles which seem to have been acquired simply because they were there.

And yet, among the sturm und dreck of such (cough) entertainment as Robotropolis and 2-Headed Shark Attack there are a lot of realand often surprisingkeepers. As a lifetime student of film whose opinion is often solicited by family and friends, I thought it would be fun to pass along what I've learned to a wider audience. (Why should other people's sites hog all the hecklers?) Not only will I try to address the alleged Netflix content vacuum by recommending unheralded, neglected, and forgotten titles, I hope to address that other nagging bugaboo associated with the service, namely: "Hey, what happened to that movie I put in my queue!? It was there last week!"

It's an inevitable side effect of signing streaming contracts with studios that said contracts eventually expire. Sometimes they're renewed, sometimes not. So yes, titles regularly come and go (and often come again). And Netflix's site doesn't do a great job of letting you know when that movie you've been saving for the perfect occasion will disappear from your queue (unlike Hulu, which can notify you beforehand). Sure, there are warnings posted a week in advance in your online queue, but if you don't regularly scan the full list on your computer or pull up a title's info page, you can easily miss this.
So in the course of making my recommendations, I'll also try to indicate when one of those titles will be ascending to that Great Netflix Queue in the Sky. Along the same lines I plan to feature a monthly selection of notable movies and TV programs set to expire, which can be accessed from the top menu.
To any cynics (or lawyers) out there, no, I don't work for Netflix. Nor do I have any relatives who work there (that I know of). I do, however, think the company gets a bum rap for what it offers, or doesn't offer, at any given time. To me, having unlimited monthly access to so much on-demand contentfor less than the cost of a movie ticket!is nothing short of miraculous. And yet, for whatever reason, a lot of people don't appreciate how ridiculously awesome this is. Don't see that latest Oscar winner? Then pony up another nine bucks for Netflix DVD rentals. Or rent it from Redbox. Or, if DVDs are too much work for you (you lazy so-and-so), rent it to stream from Amazon or iTunes. Or pay ten times more for cable (actually, don't). 

My point is, the content is out there in one form or anothereven if it means adding a few bucks to your monthly entertainment bill. Will nine dollars let you instantly stream every known frame of filmed entertainment to your living room? No. But it will give you far more than you'd imagineand certainly more than most of us 21st-century types will ever consume.

But if that's not the caseif you've truly plumbed the depths of Netflix's catalog and there's not a single recommendation I can make that you haven't already seen, then there's only one recommendation I can make: get outside already, huh? There's a whole world out there in 3D, 4K, and glorious Smell-O-Vision!

April 4, 2013

For further thoughts on this site's philosophy and the kind of titles that will be covered here, be sure to check out the post, What's on WHAT'S ON NETFLIX NOW?