Last of the New May Movies on Netflix

Pretty self-explanatory, natch!

Action: End of Watch, Bangkok Revenge

Struck by Lightning

Comedy: Tonight You’re Mine, Peep World, Struck by Lightning, Stand Off

Documentary: Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters, The Flat, How to Grow a Band, How to Die in Oregon

Leaving Las Vegas

Drama: Unconditional, Leaving Las Vegas, Generation Um…

Faith: The Freedom of Silence

Family: The Jungle Book (NOT Disney), The Bouquet

Foreign: Young & Wild, Suave Patria, Neighboring Sounds, Jab Tak Hai Jaan, Angels of Sex, The Intouchables

Television: Push Girls, Travel the Road, The Fall and new seasons of A.N.T. Farm

Donovan's Echo

Thriller: Wasted on the Young, Donovan’s Echo

Montford Park Players – FREE Shakespeare All Summer

Shakespeare

Well you guys put up with my monthly plugs of the FREE shows at the Carolina, so let me plug another FREE set of shows in Asheville. The Montford Park Players put on an entire wonderful summer of FREE Shakespeare Plays outdoors at the Hazel Robinson Amphitheater.

Rain(Waiting in the rain for play to start)
Shows start at 7:30 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays, and most Sundays. Donations are solicited at intermission but it is very low-key and you don’t need to donate if you don’t feel like it. Bring a picnic lunch with a bottle of wine or buy snacks and drinks while there. They often have The Chocolate Lab selling there as well as a hot dog vendor.

This year’s schedule of FREE plays:

May 31st to June 22nd – The Tempest

June 28th to July 20th – The Merchant of Venice

July 26th to August 17th – Love’s Labour’s Lost

August 23rd to September 14th – Hamlet

 

Watching Lately – American Torchwood Doomsday Horror Story Book

Here’s a smattering of what I’ve been watching lately on Netflix

American Horror StoryAmerican Horror Story (2011) – TV-MA

“Exploring humankind’s unsettling capacity for evil, this darkly twisted drama plays upon the power of supernatural fears and everyday horrors. Each season brings back familiar faces, but they’re playing different characters in an all-new setting.”

I had to watch this by myself as it featured something under the bed in an episode which is one of my beloved wife’s fears. I finally finished season one of American Horror Story. It is fine gonzo TV. Much like Ryan Murphy’s and Brad Falchuk’s previous Nip/Tuck, American Horror Story takes anything that is even tangentially related to the subject matter and tosses it in the proverbial blender. I really enjoyed that the first season told a complete story and that season two tells a different story (this time set in an asylum).

The cast does an admirable job of taking the increasingly silly premise seriously. Jessica Lange is wonderful as is Zachary Quinto (even though Quinto starts with a stereotype, he makes the character his own). Just sit back and enjoy and try not to think of all the plotholes.

TorchwoodTorchwood (2006-9) – TV-14

“A spinoff from the long-running “Doctor Who,” this wild sci-fi series chronicles the exploits of the mysterious Capt. Jack Harkness, who leads the Torchwood Institute team in the fight against hostile alien life forms.”

Jenny and I are two-thirds of the way through the first season of Torchwood. We had worked our way through all of the new Doctor Who episodes and chose Torchwood to continue our evening sci-fi fix. Even though Torchwood is a Doctor Who spinoff, the feel is much different. I would say that Torchwood is more serious but darker would be more accurate as Torchwood has moments of whimsy.

Sex and sexuality play a fairly large role in some of the episodes and are at least mentioned in the others. I rather enjoy Captain Jack’s ambivalent sexuality. I like the show but I’m impatiently awaiting more Doctor Who episodes. Come on Netflix, please?

Doomsday BookDoomsday Book (2012) – Not Rated

“In these three stories about the terrifying near future, a lonely zombie reflects on his condition, a robot shows that he can teach humans about the soul and a young girl regrets an unusual Internet purchase that may bring about the end of the world.”

I love apocalyptic stories. Doomsday Book brings you three of them, all by top Korean directors. Unfortunately something you should never feel about the end of the world is ho-hum and that’s how these stories left me.

The first segment (zombies) has a mildly interesting premise but does almost nothing with it. There is too much amateurish slapstick humor that just doesn’t work. It was enough of a chore to get through that I almost didn’t watch the other two.

The middle segment (robot) is easily the best. There is a lot of philosophical material here as a robot may or may not achieve enlightenment. This one felt rushed and could easily have been fleshed out into a full movie. It was a little sterile and, oddly, the only scene not set in the monastery did not really fit in.

The final segment is a single joke, stretched to fit a forty-minute segment. The idea was sound but not executed well. The only thing the second segment lacked was humor and that is found in abundance here. I especially liked the portable bomb shelter.

 

The Factory – Debbie Does Dexter

The Factory is currently available on instant Netflix.

One Line Review: Boring, boring, boring, left-field twist that makes no sense, end movie as nonsensically as the twist.

The FactoryThe Factory (2012) – Rated R

“John Cusack stars as Mike Fletcher, a policeman consumed with capturing a serial killer who’s been abducting and slaying his victims with impunity. But when Fletcher’s teen daughter vanishes, the fixated cop sets aside his badge to nab the murderer.”

Poor John Cusack. He started out promisingly in the teen comedies of the 80s. His boombox scene in Say Anything is iconic. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he continued making films straight through until now, alternating between high profile mainstream projects (Con Air, 2012) and wonderful indie features (Being John Malkovich, High Fidelity, Identity). There was an ebb and flow to his career.

How did he ever end up in direct-to-DVD drivel like this? Did he run into financial troubles like Nicolas Cage and Wesley Snipes? I thought that this must be an aberration but, looking at imdb, Cusack has no less than eight films this year.

Yes, John Cusack makes The Factory better than it has a right to be but this is hardly good work on his part. Jennifer Carpenter is looking to break out of her role as Miami homicide detective Deb in Dexter and into movies as Dexter winds down its final episodes. Here Carpenter plays a Buffalo homicide detective. So umm I guess she adds acting cold to her resume.

I noticed on Netflix, someone was lauding the film for being unpredictable. Well there is something to be said for that. That is, if by unpredictable, what you actually mean is nonsensical. I don’t do spoilers but for some films, the ending is the story. What would The Usual Suspects or The Sixth Sense be without the ending? Sometimes a film can be nonsensical and still be quite enjoyable (Star Trek Into Darkness), most other times it just detracts (Iron Man 3). Here it takes an otherwise routine film and makes you want to hurl something at the screen.

I guess the real problem is that The Factory isn’t very good to begin with. The central premise is that one of the detectives working for years to catch a serial killer of prostitutes has his teen daughter kidnapped by the killer. Please note that this is NOT to get back at the officer, the killer simply mistakes this one girl in the entire city for another prostitute (was the writer/director angry with the way his teenage daughter dresses?).

It is obvious that the writers thought of this wonderful ending and worked their way backwards but, again, it in no way makes sense. You won’t say omigosh! so much as huh? Carpenter and Cusack try to elevate this but it doesn’t rise above the level of dreck.

RedBox Instant & The Hobbit

RedboxI have rented the occasional film from those ubiquitous Redbox kiosks. They are a very low cost alternative to renting and generally pretty convenient.The only problem with their not being digital is that sometimes titles have run out.

Online rental services (Amazon, Vudu, CinemaNow, iTunes) stubbornly refuse to move their prices down so if you want the convenience of not returning a DVD, you’ll pay generally three to four times more than at Redbox. This is only funny because leaving physical media was supposed to save the consumer money – what with a DVD not having to be printed or shipped.

Redbox’s wonderful business model enabled them to bring out a streaming service to compete with the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime. For $8 a month, you get unlimited streaming AND 4 FREE DVD rentals. As with Netflix, you can sign up to try a month for FREE.

I have been meaning to try the Redbox Instant service for a while now but, honestly, I never run out of things to watch on Netflix and when the family is home, we watch Hulu Plus. There are also very few movies I rent as I’m always scoring FREE movie tickets (often by buying a low-priced Blu-Ray which gives me yet still more to watch).

The HobbitThat all changed with Redbox’s awesome promotion on May 22nd (sorry it was one day only). They offered a FREE online rental of The Hobbit to new and existing customers. This promotion got me to sign up for Redbox Instant. I hadn’t purchased The Hobbit when it came out because I am pretty sure that they will run a promotion of ‘buy The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and get a FREE ticket to The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’ sometime this fall. I also tend to wait for a decent price drop and Best Buy’s quarterly ‘Upgrade & Save’ promotion.

I was surprised at how many films Redbox has available. However they are exceptionally heavy on direct-to-video titles of the 90s and early 2000s as well as some public domain titles.Still there are plenty of gems to be had here that are NOT on Netflix. Netflix still has them outgunned on variety by at least ten times as many titles.

When Ray Harryhausen passed away recently, Netflix had none of his films available to watch. Redbox has The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad and The Golden Voyage of Sinbad. Redbox also has Gettysburg.

As with Amazon Prime’s early days, Redbox Instant has a lot of duplicate listings. They also have very limited categories (action/adventure goes on forever with little to no way to narrow it down). Navigation is pretty awful (especially on the Xbox 360 where it is dreadful) and many of their titles have a generic box.

Even searching through a category isn’t particularly helpful. Redbox appears to have only single categories for films so many of their science fiction movies are actually classified as action/adventure for example.

Their search function is functional and you can search on an actor BUT it only works if they’ve coded that film as starring that actor. Searching on Cushing on my PC brings up 19 results, only 7 of which star Peter Cushing. Searching on Peter Cushing brings up 143 results. None of those results include Arabian Adventure, which he stars in.

Be careful as Redbox also has some films available for streaming online that cost money (like Bride of Frankenstein) a la Amazon vs. Amazon Prime. It is clear that Redbox Instant is in its infancy but those four DVD credits essentially reduce the cost to less than $3 a month and you can’t beat that.

Some More Choices on Netflix & Arrested Development

Okay I can’t believe that you don’t want to watch the new season 4 of Arrested Development but if you don’t, here is what else is new on streaming Netflix:

Netflix

Action: Jack the Giant Killer (NOT Jack the Giant-Slayer), Doomsdayer, Hijack’d (Can I buy an ‘e’, Pat?), Offender, Robin Hood: Ghost of Sherwood, Spitfire

Classic: It’s All Over Town, Miss Annie Rooney

The Dictator

Comedy: The Dictator, Carry On Cleo, Carry On Cowboy, Da Hip Hop Witch, Intern, Isn’t Life Wonderful!, It’s All Happening, It’s Never Too Late, Malibu Spring Break, Mind the Gap, National Lampoon’s TV: The Movie, Nipples & Palm Trees, Pursuit of Happiness, Strictly Sexual, Top Secret (1952), Where is Parsifal?, Wilby Wonderful

Documentary: Hitler’s Children, That Guy…Who Was in That Thing, First Circle, Heart of the King, Keep Your Eyes Open, Out Late, Step up to the Plate

Drama: Capone, In Her Skin, August, Behind the Mask, Chain Link, Death is a Woman, Emile, Everybody Says I’m Fine, Fighting Tommy Riley, Inhale, Jacked Up, Keys to Freedom, Maya, On the Ice, Perlasca, Someday This Pain Will be Useful to You, Wannabes, Yelling to the Sky

Dragon

Family: The Great Bear Scare

Fantasy & Science Fiction: Dark Planet, Infection, Moonbase, Mutant Species

Foreign: Dragon (Wu Xia), The Great Magician, At the Gate of the Ghost, Belphegor: Phantom of the Louvre, Drifters, Intimate Enemies, J.S. Bach: The Music, the Life, the Legend, Te Presento a Laura

Horror: Attack of the 50 ft. Cheerleader, Beast Beneath, Cherry Tree Lane, The Club, Crowsnest, Dark Fields, Darkness Falls, The Eternal, The Greenskeeper, Little Witches, The Pact, Rodentz, Sasquatch, Satanic, The Slaughterhouse Massacre

Longmire

Television: Scandal, Longmire, Handy Manny, Jojo’s Circus, Special Agent Oso, 30 Days, new season of Bridezilla and, of course, Arrested Development season 4

Thriller: Among Thieves, Blackwoods, Marked for Murder, Misbegotten, Tracks of a Killer

Oso Blanco – No Mas

Oso Blanco is currently available on streaming Netflix

One-Line Review: Fascinating subject, poor documentary, awful cinematography.

Oso BlancoOso Blanco (2009) – Not rated

“This gritty documentary takes you inside the legendary “Oso Blanco,” the most feared prison of Puerto Rico. It is the birthplace of two of the most dangerous Latino gangs: “Neta” and “Los 27″ and the scene of hundreds of murders.”

Oso Blanco (White Bear) is, or rather was, a notorious prison in Puerto Rico. There is a wealth of material to be had, enough for several documentaries – from the history of the penitentiary to the rise of the gangs to the horrific conditions and overcrowding to an indictment of the justice system and so on. Sadly this film is none of these things.

The directors open with stories being told urban legend style without any verification. When they segue to stories that are more immediate and verifiable, skepticism from the initial stories carries over, undercutting the events being discussed. Later on, pacts with the devil and prison hauntings are presented as well.

The cinematography is the worst part of the film. Sometimes when heads are talking, they use part of the screen to animate what they are saying – such as playing soccer with a head. Shots often overlap each other and not in an artistic way. Scenes can run from a single second to several minutes, resulting in a questioning of who on the crew had ADD.

Then it continues with the interviews – sometimes they shoot the interviews full body, some just head shots, some are in color, and others in black and white. Then they will just stop the whole documentary for a musical number. There are so many of the really short scenes where you would honestly like to know what they were filming (or showing sometimes in black and white photographs). If you can get used to that, then two thirds of the way through the movie, they throw in split-screen.

Oso Blanco is also in subtitles. Normally I don’t mind them but in many cases here they are incorrect and/or inadequate. For example, one scene quotes the prison as closing in 2007 while the placard states 2004. The subtitles are also hard to focus on when the scenes are changing rapidly. The documentary runs a scant 77 minutes, including credits.

Oso Blanco is the most frustrating documentary I have watched since God Save My Shoes.

House at the End of the Street

House at the End of the Street (could this title be any more generic?) is currently available on instant Netflix.

One Line Review: Inoffensive, watered down horror brightened by Jennifer Lawrence.

House at End of Street

House at the End of the Street (2012) – Rated PG-13

“Moving to a new town proves even more stressful for a teenage girl when she learns that the house next door was the site of a double murder. But after making friends with the victims’ son, she realizes there may be more to the story.”

“Is that Mr. and Mrs. Dead People’s house?”

Okay this isn’t fair to lay solely at the feet of this movie but House at the End of the Street begins with an animated logo from Relativity Media. This is followed by animated logo for Rogue, which is a Relativity Media company! We then get another animated logo from Filmnation and not to to be left out a final animated logo from A Bigger Boat. This is before ANY of the credits, which by the way begin with “relativity media presents” and then segues into “a filmnation entertainment / a bigger boat production”. Ugh – definitely one of the annoying trends in movies is this double-thanking of everyone before the movie even starts. /rantmodeoff

You can’t really argue with the cast here. Academy Award winner Jennifer Lawrence is our teenager in distress. Elissa. Before you point out that Lawrence won after this film, she had also been nominated for her performance in Winter’s Bone back in 2010. Lawrence plays her role well while still always exuding likability. She really reminds me of Tom Hanks in that regard.

Academy Award nominee Elisabeth Shue plays her mom, Sarah, and is another actress that always seems affable. Max Thieriot, currently seen as Dylan Massett on Bates Motel, is good as the mysterious orphan, Ryan. The other young people involved are rather neutral, not being given much to do.

The basic premise is intriguing but not well-realized. Some of the plotting leaves much to be desired. I certainly had my share of encounters with bullies growing up and they don’t tend to commit felonies out in the open, such as destroying a car in front of dozens of witnesses without provocation. The movie was obviously written with the end shot in mind and yet that shot is a foregone conclusion unless you fell asleep.

House at the End of the Street is more mystery than horror and, because of the teen-friendly PG-13 rating, the violence is toned down quite a bit. The reveal is nice and the cast is good but overall the film is just meh.

People Watch: Gil Bellows, who plays Weaver here, has certainly had a colorful career. While not instantly recognizable, he played regular Billy Thomas in Ally and Ally McBeal as well as roles in The Shawshank Redemption and The Weather Man.

May This ‘n’ That

Netflix* Netflix has updated their iOS versions so now you can have autoplay and auto suggest on the iPad, iPhone, and iPod just as on the Roku and Xbox.

* In a great big duh!, wherever Netflix streaming goes, torrenting drops. To put it in old Loss Prevention terms, theft is 90% opportunity, 10% determination. Give people something to watch until Game of Thrones season 3 comes out on Blu-Ray and there’s a good chance they’ll wait. Meanwhile, does someone have an HBO Go key I can use so I don’t have to wait until next year to catch up on Tyrion and the Starks (new band name).

Arrested Development

* New Arrested Development season May 26th. Looks like a Memorial Day marathon to me! Remember there’s always money in the banana stand!

* Netflix will premiere another new series, Orange is the New Black, on July 11th. The series is a comedy/drama about a women’s prison. On July 18th, Netflix will get the BBC series Ripper Street, about policework during the time of…well you can guess.

Amazon Prime* As if there weren’t enough boxes out there with the Xbox, PS3, Wii U, Roku, and all the Roku knockoffs, it looks like Amazon is going to bring out their own streaming box.

* The people over at Silver Oak Casino have a brilliant (but far too large to post here) flowchart to help you determine what to watch on Netflix.

Star Trek – Into Darkness

Star Trek Into Darkness

Thank you Esurance! I won two tickets to Star Trek: Into Darkness from them. Not only was the contest generous but the tickets covered up to $15.50 each, which is coincidentally what the Biltmore Grande charges for their RPX evening showings in 3D. Not wanting to waste a gift horse that is what we used it for.

One Line Review: Trek is packed with action, excitement, witticisms, and character development – this one will be tough to beat for the summer crown.

My wife, daughter and I all thoroughly enjoyed the movie. The RPX sound was immersive and the bass made the seats throb. The RPX picture quality was amazingly crisp, even in 3D. I don’t normally go to RPX because I love my Carolina and the RPX is about twice the price but WOW I was blown away. This is the closest we have to Imax in Asheville.

While the RPX heightened our enjoyment, Star Trek Into Darkness is a wonderful film on its own. While I derided Iron Man 3 for being made by committee/formula, much the same approach is used here but to great effect.

Star Trek checklist:

Strenuous heroics from Kirk and Spock: Tons! This film is almost constant action with brief respites for clever dialogue.

Fun banter between Kirk, Spock, and Bones: Any time they are not in a fight and sometimes when they are, witty banter abounds and not just for those three.

Good character moments for Sulu, Chekov, Scotty, and Uhura: Uhura’s role is considerably beefed up and the others all have their moment in the sun.

References to classic Trek episodes: I don’t want to spoil any of them but they are nearly uncountable. Plots, characters, incidents are mentioned, seen, adapted, or alluded to.

Ship to ship combat: Yes and wow.

Kirk and/or Spock learn a lesson: Both do, of course.

Cameos: Yes, two – one of which is in the previews.

Three of the four quibbles I have with the film are all minor. The first, which I can only speak generally about to avoid spoilers, is that a lot of elements that they felt were necessary for Trek fans were shoehorned in at the last minute. The second is that the final action sequence, while having a couple inventive touches, pales in comparison to the several before it so it feels more like an afterthought than building to a crescendo. Third, Benedict Cumberbatch, while a wonderful actor, isn’t given enough to do – mostly because there are so many beloved characters to focus on.

The fourth quibble I have, I don’t want to go into detail for fear of spoiling but nearly every plotting aspect of this movie makes no sense (a la Iron Man 3). Almost everything in this movie is done simply to get from point A to point B, action sequence to action sequence. As a for instance, the rescue method in the beginning of the movie could clearly have been used for the insertion but that wouldn’t have been as dramatic. A second example, also from the beginning, is that we have plenty of remote placement and firing mechanisms now (robotic, radio, laser, programmed, etc.) and this is set in the future. Whatever you do, just enjoy the ride and try not to question the logic until you leave.

I am very much looking forward to seeing what J.J. Abrams and crew do with the Star Wars franchise.