Sunday, March 13, 2011

Netflix Queue Challenge

My friend John has a great feature on his blog called John vs. The Netflix Queue. He recently watched and wrote about the Toy Story series, none of which he'd seen, which led to a discussion about films we haven't seen that we "should" have. My queue is similarly massive, and also full of things that I really "should" have seen. It's funny how we all judge each other on things like this. I was shocked that he'd never seen any of the Toy Stories, but people are similarly shocked that I've never seen Top Gun or Whatever Happened to Baby Jane or Army of Darkness. So, you know, these things happen. I joked to John that if I thought I wouldn't peter out after a month, I would steal his idea of blogging my way through the queue, and he said, "Oh you should! We can motivate each other!" As if we're dieting or quitting smoking instead of watching movies. So, challenge accepted, here we are.

My Netflix queue is a dumping ground. Anything that sounds remotely interesting to me from a review, or a commercial, or a conversation, I just add. (My Amazon wishlist and Kindle samples work similarly.) So there's some deeply random stuff in there, some of which I don't even remember adding, or recognize at all. There are things I have seen but want for whatever reason to see again. I'm always moving things I want to see right now to the top of the queue, so other discs never get the chance to move up. And I don't watch a lot of movies anyway. I almost never see them in the theater (I'm trying to do more of that) and at home I watch a lot of TV and play a lot of video games and my Netflix take a back seat. Boy and I have lived together for over 6 years and still maintain separate Netflix accounts. He gets 5 at a time and watches them very quickly, usually when I'm not home. He often doesn't know what's in his envelopes before he opens them. I get one at a time, and often let them sit, despite almost always choosing to put whatever that disc is at the top of the queue. If there's overlap in our selections, we'll often watch those together, of course, but where our schedules overlap we're more likely to watch the DVR.

My DVD queue currently has 436 discs in it, and my instant queue has 98 (several items are in both). I can't imagine ever getting through it all, unless I made a full-time job of it somehow. So that's the background, and where I'm starting from. I'm going to try to do short reviews as I work my way through. Since so many of the movies are old, I'm going to assume you've seen them already if you're interested. That certainly applies to...

The History Boys
The History Boys has been in my queue forever. I never managed to see the play when it was on Broadway and the talk of the town, and then I didn't make it to the movie when it was briefly in theaters, and then it languished in the queue for years, never a high priority. Somehow it came up in conversation with Joe recently and I was severely peer pressured into moving it up in my queue. And why not? Everyone loved the play. I generally like British things. It's full of cute boys (also British things), some of whom went on to do other things I like very much.

And I kind of hated it. For starters, I always find Richard Griffiths kind of creepy, but I can't fault the movie for that. But mostly I just thought it was boring. So, so very boring. I didn't care about anyone. To some extent this is a flaw of watching movies like this at home, where I am easily distracted, but I didn't quite get what they were supposed to be doing in class. I mean, I know that they were preparing for their university entrance exams, but what did Hector teach, exactly?

There's an obvious comparison to Dead Poets Society, which is one of my all-time favorite movies. It's pure cheese, but it's very active in its inspirationalness. I don't just mean in the running through fields reading poetry way, but in the way the kids actually do things. They're shaken out of their repressive world a little bit. The kids in The History Boys aren't repressed at all. In fact, some of them seem a little too sexually open for the small-town 1980s setting. And they're inspired good test-takers? Interview well? Allow themselves to be groped now and then? I was completely unmoved. I do wonder what I'd have felt if I'd seen it when I was 12 or 13, like Dead Poets, but I didn't, so meh.

I'm told it was much better on stage, but I don't really see how, since at least the film had the benefit of lovely English countryside to look at occasionally. I also have a core problem with the story, in that I don't really think it's okay that Hector touches the kids. Sure, they allow it, and no one is damaged, and they make a big point about how he won't touch the little one because he looks too young, was a strange choice, and I couldn't get behind to speak. And the ending felt totally unearned.

All of that said, Frances de la Tour, who I'd only ever seen in Harry Potter, is absolutely delightful.

Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre: Beauty and the Beast
I don't remember how it came up, but a while back Boy was telling me about his fond childhood memories of Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre, an early 80s Showtime anthology series for kids (? pretentious kids, judging by the spellings), starring an insane hodge-podge of 70s and 80s stars. The guests remind me of The Muppet Show – so deeply representative of the time period, with some who went on to become much bigger stars, and some...not so much. Including Shelley herself.

It was the sort of thing that I put in the queue with no real expectation of ever watching. But last weekend I was home alone and had nothing I wanted to watch, and discovered that it had been added to Watch Instantly. And since I had just seen Beastly I was curious to see a more faithful version of "Beauty and the Beast" to see where some of the weirder elements had come from, and neither the Disney nor the Cocteau is in Watch Instantly. It seemed the perfect way to kill an hour.

The episode begins with Shelley Duvall astride a horse, doing a little introductory host bit. And as she says the words, "Beauty...and the Beast," she leans forward so that she's basically lying down on the horse's neck. It's a deeply weird image (of someone who already reads pretty weird) and it sets the tone spectacularly. What follows is 50-or-so minutes of the most plodding children's television I've ever seen. Even by the standards of the time, the pacing is AWFUL. It's so slow and there's so much padding, it makes you realize how little happens in traditional fairy tales and how masterful Disney is at fleshing them out. Beauty and Beast have no arc together beyond she's scared of him, he's nice to her, she's less scared of him, and somehow that ends up in fairy tale love. Even Beastly lets something resembling an actual friendship develop.

But the production values are decent (especially the costumes), and it's really fun to see a barely-post-Rocky Horror Susan Sarandon as Beauty. Yes, her name is actually Beauty. I realize that Belle means Beauty, but this just sounded silly every time they said it. Angelica Houston plays one of her evil sisters, and seems to be in an entirely different movie. Who knew Angelica Houston and Mary Kate Olsen would ever have anything in common? Klaus Kinski plays the Beast in a surprisingly good mask. Near the end they shoot him from a low angle and you can clearly see his upper lip moving under the mask, and it seemed so odd that no one would notice that, especially when it had looked so good (relatively) up until then. Though between his accent and the mask and the bad writing it's often hard to tell exactly what he's saying. He has the reverse problem of Beastly: After he's made human again he's still pretty ugly. When Beauty says, "I'll have to get used to it, I think I preferred the beast," she might not be joking.

Now that it's easy to sample episodes on the Wii, I'm really looking forward to Robin Williams, Terri Garr and Rene Auberjonois in "The Frog Prince," Hervé Villechaize as Rumpelsiltskin (!), Shelley herself as Rapunzel (with Gena Rowlands as the Witch!), Christopher Reeve, Bernadette Peters and Carol Kane in "Sleeping Beauty," Ricky Schroeder as Hansel, Paul Reubens as Pinocchio, and Liza Minnelli in "The Princess and the Pea." There's just too much crazy there not to at least check them out!


Stephanie said...

I love this. My new Netflix thing is because we don't see movies in the theatre much (kid, and I hate all people in movie theatres), as soon as a movie comes out that I want to see, I add it to my queue. Waaaaay before it's even going to come out on DVD because I just know that if I wait until it comes out on DVD, I will forget I wanted to see it.

Netflix is great for that. They do have placeholders already even if they don't have the release date yet.

I have a Should Watch problem: sometimes I'll get a Should Watch at home and I'll be bummed when it arrives and it will be like having to eat a vegetable. Then I'll start it, hate it, and stop it w/o finishing. (See: Scott Pilgrim. I just didn't get it because I'm not a gamer? I don't even know if "gamer" is the right word?)

Other times are even worse, I'll get a Should Watch at home and I'll open it and it will just sit there for days, weeks, even months (See: Darjeeling Express) and I just can't bring myself to actually watch it. One day, I'll be all, "Life's too damn short and I want to rewatch all of Alias for the millionth time," so back that Should Watch goes. Not Watched or even Part Watched.

And writing this long-ass comment has inspired me to post about what a Netflix slacker I am.

Adam807 said...

I do the exact same thing with new releases. No kid but boy, do I hate people!

You should join us! I bet we all have some overlap (I miss the Netflix Friends feature), we could watch and post together (virtually).

Sara said...

I recently watched several of the Faerie Tale theater episodes (my library acquired the dvd set). I was surprised to see that the Cinderella episode was the live-action Cinderella that I vividly remembered from my childhood, but had thought was a PBS special of some sort. It has Matthew Broderick as the prince, Jennifer Beals as Cinderella, Jean Stapleton as the fairy godmother, the Rydell High principal lady as the stepmother, and Edie McClurg as one of the sisters.