Netflix Mid-January Offerings

Here are the latest streaming options from Netflix. The choice pick is probably 5 Broken Cameras which is nominated for an Oscar.

Action: Turbulent Skies, Death Race 3: Inferno, Dante’s Inferno, Beyond Sherwood Forest, and Dawn of the Dragon Slayer

Comedy: Kung Fu Joe

Documentary: Miss Navajo, Delta Boys, Mary Pickford: The Muse of the Movies, Coming to Light: Edward S. Curtis and the North American Indians, 5 Broken Cameras, and Zeitgeist: Addendum

Drama: Screwed, Flirt, Love at First Kill, Counterpunch, Abandoned, October Baby, and The Casserole Club

Family: Goobers!

Foreign: 17 Girls, Painted Skin: The Resurrection, Ploy, Rainbow Song, Shanghai Dreams, Tempo, M/Other, Mon Rak Transistor, Parque Via, and Country Wedding

Horror: Death of the Virgin, Zombies vs. Strippers, The Dead Want Women, The Rig, and Super Hybrid

Television: Keeping Up Appearances, Gravity, Requiem from the Darkness, Mr. Young, For Love of Liberty, XIII, Edgemont, I Married a Mobster, Whisker Wars, and new episodes of Pit Boss and Being Human (U.S.)

Netflix Moves into the Third Dimension! (cue spooky music)

The Consumer electronics Show is currently underway so it must be time for some technical updates.

* Netflix has added some 3D titles to streaming. The catch is that your ISP has to use the Open Connect CDN and you need at least 6mbps of bandwidth (preferably 12mbps). Also you obviously need a 3D television to play this on.

* Netflix is also converting most of its movies from HD to Super HD. Both of these are 1080p so I’m not sure what the difference is other than that Super HD is supposed to be better. Their current HD requires about 5mbps with the Super needing 7mbps.

* Netflix has signed a deal with Time Warner, making them the exclusive online distributor for West Wing, Revolution, Chuck, Political Animals, Fringe, 666 Park Avenue, and Longmire.

* Netflix is also going to have personalized profiles so you can breakdown your style choices. Hopefully this will stop Netflix from suggesting dumb teen comedies to me. Now if only they would stop suggesting movies I’ve already watched and rated…

* Sometime this month CBS shows are supposed to start showing up on Hulu

* Hulu’s CEO and CTO are both stepping down.

More Movies from the Netflix Grab Bag

A few more odds and ends I’ve watched recently on streaming Netflix.

Films of Fury: The Kung Fu Movie Movie (2011) – Rated R

“An animated but earnest kung fu fan (who knows all his trivia) narrates this documentary tribute to the great martial arts stars and their films. The movie includes scenes from more than 200 movies featuring Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and other stars.”

There is no arguing with the breadth of this movie – it covers over 200 movies – but it could use some more depth. I did not care for the animated backstory used to present the clips but some might find it amusing. The clips themselves are quite well chosen as is much of the narration. Films of Fury is a lot of fun but it could have been better.

Get the Gringo (2012) – Rated R

“Mel Gibson stars as a man who ends up in a notorious Mexican prison after his attempt to get away with a million-dollar stash ends in his arrest. With no friends among his fellow inmates, the American has to rely on help from a young Mexican boy.”

Okay I guess this is Hollywood testing the waters to see if the public is willing to forgive Mel enough to watch him. I don’t know that I would pay money to see this misogynistic racist in the theater but for free on Netflix? Sure I’ll give it a shot (because honestly, while it is a Mel Gibson film, hundreds of other people worked on it).

The verdict: Get the Gringo is actually pretty good. It has an edgy, snarky sense of humor – a little like a cross between Elmore Leonard and James Ellroy though that is perhaps giving it a bit too much credit. The setting of a Mexican prison is novel and well-used. I also liked that pretty much everyone in the film, north or south of the border, was corrupt.

Hugo (2011) – Rated PG

“When his father dies, 12-year-old orphan Hugo takes up residence behind the walls of a Parisian train station. There, he meets Isabelle, the daughter of filmmaker Georges Méliès, who holds the key to Hugo’s destiny.”

I finally got to watch this delightful movie. This confection is so sugary that you won’t believe it was directed by Martin Scorsese. I love Chloe Grace Moretz and Christopher Lee in anything and they don’t disappoint here. I did not expect much from Sacha Baron Cohen but he was quite wonderful as were Ben Kingsley and Asa Butterfield. This is a stately, gorgeous ode to film – watch it with some patience and you will be rewarded.





The Haunting

The Haunting is currently available on Amazon Prime.

The Haunting (1963)

“In an old New England house believed to be haunted, an ESP researcher enlists the help of two mediums in the hopes they can learn more about the house’s evil reputation.”

“An evil old house, the kind some people call haunted, is like an undiscovered country waiting to be explored. Hill House had stood for 90 years and might stand for 90 more. Silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there… walked alone.”

The Haunting is based on the Shirley Jackson story, The Haunting of Hill House. Robert Wise owed MGM one more film (contracts were all the rage then), read a synopsis of Jackson’s novel in Time, and acquired the rights. He had Nelson Gidding (The Andromeda Strain, The Hindenburg) do the screenplay adaptation.

Robert Wise has a stark shot of the house and an ominous voiceover narration start the film as though this were a ghost story told around a campfire. The opening shot of the house contrasted sharply against the sky was made with infrared film.

Wise quickly kills off the two wives of Mr. Crain in stylish fashion. He then ages child Abigail from 6 to 80 in her bed in a dissolve while the narration continues and that is just in the first five minutes.

Wise’s direction and Davis Boulton’s cinematography are superb. There are wonderful effects with different lenses, skewed angles and types of film. All of the deaths are elegantly filmed.

The house itself is the main character in the film. I loved the spiral staircase and vintage mirrors. You could spend the entire movie just watching all the wonderful furniture. It is crowded pell-mell into every nook and cranny – even the doorknobs are fascinating. There is even a rope carried on a silver platter. Even the garden has more statuary than plants.

Julie Harris is sublime as the psychologically damaged Nell. Her portrayal is very complex – part victim, part guilty soul, part protagonist – trying to find the bravery to break out of her shell. Claire Bloom is wonderful as well as the playful Theodora. I really liked that while it was clear that Theo was interested in Nell, it was not given a negative spin – except in Nell’s rather repressed character.

The movie belongs to the ladies and the house but the group of investigators is rounded out by Richard Johnson as Dr. Markaway and Russ Tamblyn as Luke Sanderson. That and the rather unwelcoming caretakers, Valentine Dyall as Mr. Dudley and Rosalie Crutchley as Mrs. Dudley.

The Haunting is one of the best ghost movies ever – skillfully combining psychology with the paranormal. The Haunting is in black and white in spite of the obvious big budget – picture quality is excellent. It is Martin Scorsese’s favorite horror movie.

p.s. Should you dare, you can stay at Hill House – the exterior shots were taken at what is now the Ettington Park Hotel.

People Watch: Look for a young Lois Maxwell as Grace Markway. She had played Miss Moneypenny in Dr. No (1962) the previous year and would go on to play the role in every official Bond film through A View to a Kill (1985).

Remake-itis: In 1999, The Haunting was remade in name only.

Some Movies from the Netflix Grab Bag

Here are a bunch of non-horror movies I’ve watched recently. Yes I do watch something besides horror from time to time.

The Queen of Versailles (2012) – Rated PG

“Meet the Siegels, glitterati who made a fortune in the time-share business only to see it crumble in the 2008 financial collapse. The site of their rise and almost-fall is their home (America’s largest), a gaudy replica of the Palace of Versailles.”

This is an absolutely fascinating documentary. Some people will enjoy the schadenfreude of seeing an egregiously rich family hit money problems. I personally found their tortured justifications riveting. The adults are absolutely appalling – especially the head of the clan. It made me sick to watch them classify people who sell timeshares in the same class as firemen and emergency aid workers as people who save lives, rather than the truth that many of these people took horrific advantage of people who couldn’t afford it. I would not be surprised to find this on the Oscar ballot.

Post Impact (2004) – Rated R

“After a meteor hits Earth and leaves much of the planet a frigid, desolate wasteland, Capt. Tom Parker and his motley band of scientists and soldiers are given the dangerous mission of saving the few remaining survivors.”

For me, the difference between a one star and a two star movie is whether or not I got through the whole movie. I got through Post Impact even though it wasn’t very good. The acting was affable, the special effects laughable, and the plot inscrutable. Dean Cain continues his downward DTV spiral.

Sleepwalk with Me (2012) – Rated PG-13

“In this autobiographical tale based on director Mike Birbiglia’s successful one-man show, an up-and-coming stand-up comedian deals with career and relationship issues while trying to ignore his outrageous sleepwalking habit.”

Though the lead character is somewhat reprehensible, I rather enjoyed this tale of a stand-ups rise. It is especially charming as Mike Birbiglia starts as a terrible comedian before learning what humor is. I especially enjoyed the ending though my wife did not.

Assassin’s Bullet (2012) – Rated R

“When an unknown vigilante begins killing high-priority terrorists from America’s Most Wanted list in Europe, a former FBI field agent (Christian Slater) is brought in by the US ambassador (Donald Sutherland) to discover the identity of the assassin.”

Much as I like Christian Slater (which is somewhat), when you see his name these days, it is a good bet that the film is not very good. This film is no exception. The story is utterly generic and the ending is terrible. While Christian Slater is the nominal star here, it is clear that this movie was meant to launch a career for Elika Portnoy, even though she isn’t very good.



More from the Horror Grab Bag

Here’s another batch of horror movies I’ve watched on streaming Netflix.

The Hole (2009) – Rated PG-13

“In the basement of their new home, young brothers Dane and Lucas discover a mysterious trap door. With their neighbor, Julie, the boys pry open the ominous barrier and find a bottomless hole, which leads them to excruciating pain and misery.”

I feel a little ashamed to put this on the same page with the other three movies. The Hole was delayed several years and never received a U.S. theatrical release. This is a shame because it is a lot of fun. It is a mixture of adventure and horror with a young cast, kind of an 80s throwback. Bruce Dern puts in his usual quirky performance but the movie belongs to the three young unknown leads (Chris Massoglia, Haley Bennett, and Nathan Gamble). Joe Dante gets great performances from them and does a nice balancing act between the adventure and horror elements (just as he did in Gremlins).

Monster Brawl (2011) – Not rated

“This bone-rattling showdown staged as a pay-per-view event brings together some of filmdom’s most hideous creatures in a fight to the last freak. Among the horrifying combatants in the bloody competition are Cyclops, Frankenstein and Swamp Gut.”

Okay, I admit that from the description this already sounds like a stinker but I wanted to give it a chance. The only good thing I can say about it is that it is better than FDR: American Badass. I still wasn’t able to watch more than fifteen minutes of this.

Night of the Living Dead: Reanimation (2012) – Rated R

“After inheriting a funeral home, a mortician accidentally exposes hundreds of uncremated bodies to toxic waste, causing them to rise from the dead. When the man’s inheritance-seeking brother shows up, the two must fight off a full zombie outbreak!”

This was at least watchable so it fares better than Monster Brawl and FDR. That said, watchable is the best praise I can give it. Only for those who need a zombie fix and have watched everything else available, even Jeffrey Combs couldn’t save this. The acting, direction, and script are terrible.

FDR: American Badass (2012) – Rated R

“After contracting polio from a werewolf bite, FDR won’t stop at single-handedly ending the Great Depression and prohibition. With the help of a team of historic figures, he must claim victory in World War II by defeating an army of Nazi werewolves.”

While this sounds like it could be a lot of fun, it was actually truly awful. I couldn’t even manage to give it the full fifteen minute tryout.


The Pit and the Pendulum

The Pit and the Pendulum is currently available on Amazon Prime

The Pit and the Pendulum (1961)

“Vincent Price plays a 16th century Spanish nobleman who slowly goes crazy when he thinks that his wife has been buried alive. It’s all a joint plot between the supposed dead wife and her doctor/lover to get Price’s money. Price now totally insane, assumes his father’s identity (that of a grand inquisitor) and starts to murder!”

The House of Usher (1960) was Corman’s gamble on a big Poe production. Not only did he spend the money to film it in color but also in widescreen. The gambit paid off handsomely so naturally Corman looked to repeat that success. Most of Corman’s Poe films exist to showcase the talents of Vincent Price and this one is no exception.

In 1961, Roger Corman released The Pit and the Pendulum. With each film in the series Corman takes further liberties with Edgar Allan Poe’s source material. Here, in a stroke of genius, he capitalizes on Vincent Price’s popularity by using the character’s madness to essentially double-cast him. As a nod to Poe, there is someone who was bricked up and someone who may or may not have been buried alive.

Vincent Price was not always a flamboyant actor but his success with House of Wax and subsequent roles persuaded him to make his performances more and more theatrical. Vincent Price plays Nicolas Medina who is going insane. The insanity allows him to play both Nicolas and his father.

Barbara Steele plays Elizabeth Barnard Medina. Steele was hot off her Italian horror hit Black Sunday. She performs well here and looks very striking but her voice is dubbed by another actress. John Kerr as Francis Barnard makes a solid if low-key leading man.

In addition to the titular pit and pendulum, we also get a rack, pokers, and an iron maiden. Corman definitely does not shirk on the torture devices but this being the 60s, actual torture is only alluded to (thankfully). Because this is Corman, we also get a castle (matte painting), scenes of crashing waves, a cobweb machine on overdrive, and wonderful sets.

Remake-itis: The Pit and the Pendulum was previously made in 1909 (Le puits et le pendule) and 1913. After this it was remade in 1991 with Lance Henriksen, Jeffrey Combs, and Oliver Reed and, in 2009, the name was ripped off for a David DeCoteau movie.

More January Netflix Goodness – Butter, V/H/S

Once again Netflix has released a tidy collection of movies to streaming. At this rate I think I’ll have to do a weekly update just to keep up with them. As usual television has a ridiculous portion – I can only think that Netflix is paying pennies for all these shows.

Action: Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Maximum Conviction, and Guns, Girls and Gambling

Comedy: Butter, Sebastian Maniscalco: What’s Wrong with People, Supernatural Activity, and Pumpkin

Documentary: Everything or Nothing: The Untold Story of 007, Sky Soldier, Whores’ Glory, and Vigilante Vigilante: The Battle for Expression

Drama: Pawn’s Move

Family: Legends of Valhalla: Thor, Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax (animated), and Secret of the Wings

Foreign: For Greater Glory and Bodyguard

Horror: V/H/S and X Game

Television: WWE: CM Punk: Best in the World, Chaplin & Co., Live Fire, Feeding Time, Little Prince, African Wild, Emotional Atyachar, Scary Tales, Stoked, Skeleton, Inc., Barney: Let’s Go to the Doctor, Angelina Ballerina: Superstar Sisters, several Red Bull specials, and new episodes of I Shouldn’t be Alive, Swamp Loggers, Surviving the Cut, and Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta

FREE Movie Tickets!

Any regular reader knows I LOVE FREE, especially FREE movie tickets.

General Mills has put out a promotion on many of their cereals for buy two boxes of cereal and get a movie ticket (up to $12) FREE. The offer is good through December 6, 2013 (although once printed out, the movie tickets are good for two months). As you can see I’ve stockpiled quite a bit of cereal. In our area these cereals are around $3 so for $6 (less if you have coupons and/or the cereal is on sale) you get two boxes of cereal AND a movie ticket.

The offer is available on specially marked boxes of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Cocoa Puffs, Reese’s Puffs, Lucky Charms, Fiber One, Trix, Golden Grahams, and Cheerios. I have seen the boxes in Target, Wal-Mart, and several grocery stores so the promotion isn’t limited to a specific store.

Wal-Mart has a Warner Bros. stand up in electronics with $4 DVDs and $7.88 Blu-Rays. Each one has a sticker on it for $7.50 off of a movie ticket to see a Warner Bros. movie before 2/12/13. Warner has three movies during that period: The Hobbit (out now), Gangster Squad (out 1/11), and Bullet to the Head (out 2/1). DVDs (make sure it has the sticker on the package):

  • The Bodyguard
  • Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore
  • Dolphin Tale
  • IMAX: Born to Be Wild
  • Inception
  • Journey 2: The Mysterious Island
  • The Matrix
  • The NeverEnding Story
  • New Year’s Eve
  • P.S. I Love You
  • Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
  • Terminator Salvation
  • 300
  • The Town
  • Unforgiven
  • Where the Wild Things Are
  • Wrath of the Titans

A Tale of Two Cinemas – Epic vs. Carolina

I have extolled the virtues of Carolina Cinemas may times before but once again this week I was reminded of how exceptional they are. The Carolina is about a forty-five minute drive into Asheville for me whereas our local Epic cinema is only ten minutes away.

The Epic has fantastic large screens, stadium seating, and reasonable prices ($6.50-$8.75) with a $2 surcharge for 3D. They even have $5 Tuesdays. You would think that shaving over an hour off a roundtrip and the high tech presentation would have me going local every time.

Unfortunately customer service and follow through are things Epic has apparently not heard of. The last time my wife and daughter went to the Epic, they arrived early for the feature. Because the theater had yet to be cleaned (twenty minutes before feature start), they were not allowed in. The Epic has a series of benches between each of the screens but NONE in the huge lobby. The benches are behind the ticket taker but not only would the ticket taker not take their tickets (since the theater had not been cleaned), he would not allow my ladies to sit on the benches (since it was past his ticket booth).

In case you think this a fluke, my latest visit was to see Monsters, Inc. 3D with my daughter and granddaughter. We used our FREE tickets at the counter. I always apologize out of courtesy when I use one as they have to handpunch the number (other than that they are used just like a credit card for payment). At the Carolina, my customary apology would be responded to with “oh no problem” or even “no worries, Marc” if it is one of the managers. At the Epic, I said “I’m sorry. I know these are a pain to enter.” to which the cashier actually harrumphed at me and said, “they sure are.”

We got inside and ordered a soda and popcorn. The counter staff were very polite and complimented my granddaughter. I got to the ticket taker and gave him our tickets. He informed us with a shrug that they didn’t have any more kids 3D glasses. Are you kidding me? Who did they think would attend Monsters, Inc. 3D? Why wouldn’t the person selling the tickets be made aware of this (especially as once used, the movie vouchers cannot be reused)?

These are only the most recent attempts at the Epic – I would guess that half of all my visits there end in frustration.

In contrast, many of Carolina Cinemas personnel have made the effort to learn my name, one of them even knows my usual food order. They are unfailingly polite, soda refills (any size) are FREE (the machine is self-serve), popcorn refills (any size) are FREE (with an Asheville Film Society membership), and they serve a pretty decent chicken tomato basil pizza. Add to that the rewards program (Epic has one but it is sub-par), FREE movies Tuesday and Thursday evening in the cinema lounge, and $5 Wednesday and you have a superlative cinema experience. They also serve wine and beer for those who partake.