Thursday, March 17, 2005


Don't be afraid.

I'm not going to drive you crazy proselytizing about Netflix. You needn't worry about me coming around your front screen door and haranguing you through through the mesh about how convenient the service is, or how wonderful the "queue" system is, not only as a way of ordering your preferences, but also just to simply keep track of everything you're interested in seeing. And I promise not to post every time I get a new movie and go on and on about what I saw.

Except maybe just this once.

The first movie I viewed courtesy of Netflix was Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, and it was an inauspicious introduction. Good thing Netflix only has to take credit for getting the movies to and from your house in expedient fashion, and not for the quality of the movie itself. After about 15 minutes of exposure to this over-designed retro sci-fi novelty exercise I felt like someone had thrown a blanket over my head. All I wanted to do was escape from all the nonexistent scenery and the virtually nonexistent narrative. But I stayed to the bitter end, and all I got for it was the creeps when the ghostly image of Laurence Olivier, through an old movie clip, is used (with permission from his estate, of course) as the movie's Oz-ian maguffin of a villain. Sky Captain is no worse than some of the movies Olivier made when he was alive (The Betsy), and it's far better than others (Inchon). But it unnerves me when a movie that prides itself on its 99.78% pure CGI template goes the extra step and reincarnates a dead actor to fill an important role. What hast thou wrought, Forrest Gump?

Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man is better, but still a tad on the overrated side. No doubt my receptiveness to the movie was increased by seeing it after Sky Captain-- never have real humans on screen looked so welcome. (I eventually decided that Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow must also have been computer-generated-- how else to explain that feature-length hollow look in their eyes?) Dead Man is a western filtered through Jarmusch's singular sensibility, and how far that takes you depends almost entirely on your fondness for that sensibility. For me, it goes on about a half hour too long. It's blackout structure made me feel disconnected throughout, surely an intentional effect-- Jarmusch is too hip for most rooms, let alone the 19th-century Oregon wilderness. The same can be said for the repetitive pattern of the encounters of one William Blake (Johnny Depp) that find him forced to murder almost everyone he comes across, thus confirming his status as a dangerous killer, something he certainly was not before the movie began. Dead Man is barely rescued through a lyricism that emerges in the final sequences from underneath all the movie's deadpan philosophical musings and matter-of-fact violence. It's an interesting journey, but, what with all of its literary allusions and mystical tendencies, not as interesting as Jarmusch would hope.

I also ended up feeling less enthusiastic about The Misfits than I thought I might, given Jon Weisman's fondness for it (related in March 1 article posted on Dodger Thoughts just after Arthur Miller's death). It's a far better movie than either of my other two choices, but frankly, it felt a mite overwritten to me in all the big moments, such as Marilyn Monroe's salt-flat eruption, or even her one-on-one confrontation with Clark Gable regarding the morality of his mustanging ways. Even so, the movie is very well acted, particularly by Gable and Montgomery Clift, and our knowledge of the fates of the three actors adds inadvertent poignancy to their performances, and to some of the seemingly prescient dialogue. The Misfits may be unsatisfying to many because its narrative is paced at an amble, not a trot or a gallop, and its ending is muted and slightly ambiguous, emotionally raw, yet quiet and unassuming. These are not faults, however, but instead choices of tone, and there is plenty of emotion to be plumbed from them. And director John Huston is admirably, tenaciously up to the task. The Misfits is well worth seeing.

All that, and I just finished my dishes while watching Anthony Mann's spectacular Bend of the River, another one of his unparalleled westerns with Jimmy Stewart. This is one of the great westerns, and I'm so glad for Netflix's return-'em-when-you-want-to M.O., because I already want to see this one again.

Finally, Netflix has a feature that allows you to compile a "friends" list-- fellow Netflixers who can show you how they rate the Netflix films they've seen and make their recommendations directly to you via e-mail. This is just another great way that the service encourages enthusiastic dialogue and promotes watching films you may not have considered or known about previously. And if you're lucky you'll have friends like I do who pepper your e-mail server with about 10 recommendations a day. One boundlessly enthusiastic cinephile pal has sent me almost 60 recommendations since I joined last week. If I didn't believe it before, Netflix has made it clear that no matter how long I live I'll never run out of interesting movies to watch. How's that for a blessing?


Loxjet said...

Dennis, I can't wait to get on your "friends" list. Just got Kandahar today, and I'm looking forward to seeing it tonight as soon as W goes down. I'm with you on the Netflix bandwagon, though I've yet to see the list for "adult" movies. You know what might be kind of fun? A week or 2 of movies that were rated X in the '60s and '70s that would be R-rated (or PG-13-rated) today. Is there a resource you know of that would list these movies?

Thom McGregor said...

Between NetFlix and blogging, I never see-- or more like talk-- to my husband anymore. Oh, well. And hmm, I wonder who that special friend is who bombarded you with 60 e-mails in a day! Could it be... the hater of opulent cookies, A.B.? And I found Arthur Miller's works in general to be on the overheated side, like a less sweaty Tennessee Williams. The Misfits struck me that way also, but I always love to see Monty, even with his post-accident right profile.