Friday, April 1, 2011

April Fail's Day, Amazon/Netflix Instant Updates, and (Mostly) Fairy Tale Remake-itis

I'll start with the briefest bit first: I have a great review for "Your Friends & Neighbors" slotted - a perfect post for today, April Fool's Day. Unfortunately, it's... complicated; it's time-consuming. It's become April Fail's Day.

So I offer instead tons of serious, non-April-Fool's film news and observations on the Instant selection of Netflix & Amazon. You'll understand when my "YF&N" review goes up...

Moving on: Although I am not one myself, there are many reasons to be proud to be Canadian. Your country produced Wayne Gretzky and Phil Hartman, both men to be admired, adored, and learned from... And health insurance; that's pretty nice, too.

Netflix made a deal with Paramount, & now Canadian users can stream some pictures not available below their border. "Iron Man 2" might be the most high-profile example, but there's more corporate Canuck love: 7 hours later, Netflix announced they've made adjustments so Les Habitants use 2/3rds less data when they stream videos. Helping keep customers below their bandwidth caps sounds like a thoughtful, wise way of making people choose your service. Good on you, Canada. Let's take a quick Netflix break...

As an avid The AV Club fan, I've been getting a steady laugh at the remake news they've published lately. You know how "Armageddon" & "Deep Impact," "Wyatt Earp" & "Tombstone," and "The Prestige" & "The Illusionist" were all similar movies released within 6 months of each other? Well, we're talking about 21st Century Americans now, so even remake-itis is on meth:

(a) 4 different Cinderalla stories are being considered. Who's the fairest Evil Queen, Julia Roberts or Charlize Theron? Well, 1st of all, "duh, Charlize," and 2nd of all, you'll get both! You'll also see the character in an ABC tv show ("The Cinderella Chronicles?" "The Glass Shoe Diaries?" "2 Slippers, 7 Dwarfs, No Family?"), and third film version, adapted by white people to be an Asian adventure. It re-casts the 7 dwarfs as Shaolin monks.

(b) 5 different Harry Houdini productions are also in the mill. We have an actual biopic, which sounds great 'til you learn that it'll be made by the director of "I Am Legend;" I guess the ending will be changed so Houdini doesn't die from perionitis in 1926. One last blaze of glory suicide stunt to kill Hitler or Stalin, or destroy a big robot spider, or stop a team of attractive teen assassins from assassinating Roosevelt...
One studio is planning an action/adventure that sounds like "what if Houdini was a WWI-era James Bond for England?" It could have happened, but I don't think modern folks are cool enough to write about everyone's favorite Hungarian.
There's even a Broadway musical Houdini tale, tailor-made for Hugh Jackman; it's a bit preposterous in the wake of that disappointment, "The Prestige," but Jackman truly is great.
Even after all that, I'm most stunned by the two Houdini/Arthur Conan Doyle "buddy cop" projects - one will be a film, the other is a SyFy series (shudder). The two esteemed men were apparently real life friends, and people today are real jerks, so this dumb idea seemed wise to two different groups of people. I mean, how could Houdini and Doyle know each other and not combat crime?

(c) 5 different Peter Pan movies/series are in the works. One has Channing Tatum, one is a SyFy series with Kiera Knightley, one will resemble "Twilight," and one is a "family adventure concept,” whatever that means.

(d) "The Bodyguard" is slated for a remake. I meant to mention this last month, actually: scenes will surely include an imperiled female recording artist who tweets or reads email off her blackberry all the time. Hopefully, budding romance won't be doomed because of updates to foursquare. I'm not sure I'd use that site even when my life isn't in danger.

I would like to put all cynicism aside and hope that thoughtful story-telling doesn't fall by the wayside. It should be clear to anyone who's honest and/or sort of mature: mere productive output is neither a measure of success nor of quality.

Next up: I've been tracking TV series that have received a "one-show, one-page" makeover on Netflix. So add to my running list this 13th title, Showtime's own Dexter. I've never watched it, but I hear it's very violent, yet neat.

I suppose I should note that all of these nifty new pages don't just use a title to end the url. There's a number after the last "/" - you can't simply type a (sometimes hyphenated) show name to bring up the page, as with Hulu or Wiki. Netflix just brings up a 404 "not found" error.

Anyway, the timing is odd and funny, as Showtime recently announced they won't renew rights to their current, on-going shows for Netflix Instant. I've no doubt it's due to Netflix buying its 1st original program, among other things. The completed cable series will remain, but no more Instant "Californication" (never seen it) or "Dexter." Odd, right? What happens to that fancy new page once Showtime's deal with Netflix lapses?...

Finally: I took a mo to check on free offerings from Amazon Instant Video. The site offers free mp3 downloads, so surely they must have some decent free vids to rope in purchases. I've written "free viewing guides" here before - tips for how to easily access shows/movies. The result, this time, was awful.

The Amazon Instant Prime home page actually has a link, under "Special Deals" for "Free Videos." It's clear a rolling list, but there are only 8 uninteresting links displayed. House and Cuddy(?) singing "Get Happy" is interesting and all, but there's nothing like a whole film. Not even one from the public domain.

The most decent (?) free option is from a bar in the top-right of the screen. It shows that Comedy Central is offering "Stand Up: Hot Picks" for free. In fact, it's just two 24-minute episodes that are available without paying. So I guess that counts as strike 2.

Maybe it's not a total wash. There's another bar on the right, called "Most Popular Free Videos." It lists plenty of videos available for $0.00, and leads to its own page. Unfortunately, this just seems to refresh the page you were already on, changing the 8 entries displayed. That same "Most Popular" tab is still there, still displaying the same 10 entries.

So if you actually want to see what Amazon Instant offers for free, you have to get into the browsing options and then filter the results, by price, for "free." Yay, I'v- no, that brings up show pages and movie featurettes. It's a big mess.

As you might suspect, "The Office: Season 7" is not available on the site for free - just "Episode 0" of that season. Ep 0 is one of those clip show/recaps to "prepare American audiences" for an all-new season of a series. Unthrilling, right? Well, that's pretty much the standard for the results here.

I got here by clicking "Futurama Season 7."
It's not just the search capabilities that are screwy - the show pages themselves are very problematic. Get this: each show is made available by season, and each season's page is linked to one episode - that season's first episode. So when you click on "Grey's Anatomy Season 3," you're directed to a page for "GA" Season 3, ep 1.

Even worse, some of the listed prices are for "Amazon Prime" members - so a listing for "Stripes" has below it "Prime members:       $0.00." Anyone quickly scanning would be confused whether the video is free - from "Amazon Instant" - or whether it's free only the smaller group of "Amazon Prime." videos. I think I'm on "strike 4" by now...

All that sounds awkward, right? It gets worse - those show pages I described two paragraphs ago are the only way to learn the running time for any available video.

Naturally, the show pages only give the running time for that initial episode - it's there in the flash window at the top, and it's always in Amazon's product information further below. The only way you'll find the length of episode 2 or 3, then, is by actually clicking on each episode. One at a time. It's... dissatisfying.

So what do you think about Amazon's meager offering? I say they should know better, at least insofar as they actually set up a link and a page for free material. Such slim pickings are almost worse than having nothing at all.

Done! I hope no more worthy news comes out for a while. Next week: 8 reviews and 1 article. That isn't an April Fool's joke - but someday soon, I'll finish my "YF&N" review and hope that it still gets the benefit of a light-hearted reading.
Until then,

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