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Posts Tagged ‘Netflix’

Earlier in the year saw the latest round of the battle between opposing views on film distribution and exhibition.  The battleground, the Caane film festival.  In 2017 Netflix had two films in competition: Okja and The Meyerowitz Stories.  This years the festival’s artistic director Thierry Fremaux, imposed a rule that all films shown at the festival must receive a French theatrical release.  This wouldn’t be a issue in most countries including the UK and USA, but France have more ridged rules on distribution.  Once a film is shown in a French cinema/theatre, it cannot be sold on DVD, or pay-per-view for four months, furthermore, it cannot be streamed on a subscription service like Netflix, or Amazon Prime for three years.netfix cover

So why is this a big deal?  Simply, Netflix is morphing into one of the biggest film production company in the world.  With an annual budget for new content reported to be around $8Billion, they are planning to make around 80 films this year.  Unlike Amazon Prime who are giving their higher profile movies cinema releases, Netflix distributes its content exclusively on its own platform.  This is beginning to look like the vertical integration of the big studios during the golden age of cinema.  That particular era ended in 1948 when United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc. ruled that the system was in violation of US antitrust laws.

I am a firm believer that the cinema is the best place to watch a film, and do so frequently.   Over that last ten years, I have averaged about 2.5 trips to the cinema every week. I do however, also subscribe to both the streaming services I have mentioned here.    So where does that leave us?  Should there be restrictions on where, when and how films are distributed? Film critic Mark Kermode has spoken frequently and vocally on how films should be available simultaneously on multiple platforms.  Will imposing more restrictions help of hinder the situation?  Bizarrely, I think the best option may be one that would probably fall foul of competition laws.  If Netflix were to do a deal with a major cinema chain to give there bigger releases a cinema release, this would provide the best of both worlds.  They could then give free or heavily discounted tickets to their subscribers (the cinema will make their money selling food and drink).

I don’t think there are any simple answers to the issue.  I live in a major city with at least one cinema from all the major chains and several independents.  I also have superfast broadband, I am therefore well covered on all fronts.  But what of those who live in isolated places who don’t have access to a cinema? Or those that do have a cinema but no access to streaming?  Doesn’t the industry owe these people a chance to see more movies?  Ultimately, I think we all accept the MGM motto “Ars gratia artis” is at best a thing of the past at worst a myth. MGM-LOGO

Whatever the future holds, it is clear we are in a period of transition in the film industry, but then it could be argued that that it is an industry that is always in transition. 

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Amazon Prime seems to be falling behind Netflix when it comes to original and exclusive TV show, not because their show are inferior, simply because of the onslaught from Netflix.  While there is a constant stream of new things on Netflix, Amazon seems to be more sporadic in its releases and less consistent in its quality.  But Amazon has got at least one gem of a show that can stand toe to toe with the best Netflix, Sky Atlantic and all the rest of the traditional television Networks have to offer.  I am not referring to the high concept, The Man in the High Castle, although that is excellent, I am talking about Bosh.bosch-poster-amazon-studios

I’m not a massive fan of police procedural’s both in print of on screen so probably wouldn’t have rushed to see the first season that appeared on Amazon Video (as it was then) in 2014.  However, some of the marketing caught my attention.  Based on a series of novels by Michael Connelly, Hieronymus ‘Harry’ Bosch is the half brother of Michael “Mickey” Haller, Junior aka The Lincoln Lawyer played by Matthew McConaughey in the excellent and somewhat underrated 2011 movie.  I had just re-watched The Lincoln Lawyer on TV and really enjoyed it so thought I could give the Bosch a try. the lincoln lawyer

I was vaguely aware of Titus Welliver who seems to specialises in police and military types with the odd villain thrown in for good measure.  His most notable role that I have seen was in the TV show Deadwood.  Without having read the books, I don’t know how close Welliver is to the character, but he is perfect for the show.  The casting as a whole is excellent and aided by well drawn characters is supporting roles.  Although the show is very much about Bosch, It is this fantastic cast of characters that gives the show the colour and depth that set it apart from lesser shows. Bosch

Reading up on the character biography, it appears they have done a good job of updating the character for the screen.  The first book was published in 1992, over 20 years before he made it to screen.  The character in the books had been in the 1st Infantry in Vietnam, the updated screen version, he is a veteran of the first Gulf War in 1991 who became a police officer after military service.  He re-upped with the Army after 9/11 serving in Afghanistan, something I am led to believe many real life LAPD officers did.  None of this is told through excessive exposition, it simply comes up naturally as the story progresses.  After forty episodes we are still learning things about the characters. Bosch Cast

The LA setting is important to the story.  The wealth gap and social diversity are always on the radar.  The Rampart scandal and LA Riots are directly referenced.  It is no accident that the Bosch lives above all this looking down from his hillside home.  It is explained early on in the first series that Bosch once worked as a consultant on a Hollywood film based on him.  The royalties paid for his hillside home with stunning views of LA.  Presumably it also paid for his Rolex and his HiFi system that cost about as much as a small car! (McIntosh preamp and valve power amp, Ohm Walsh speakers and an old Marantz record player).  The house (I understand described in the book as being on Woodrow Wilson, off Mulholland Drive) features heavily in the show, with the HiFi and a poster for the “The Black Echo” (the film Bosch worked on) both prominently displayed. Bosch_104_03254.CR2

Each season is a mere ten episodes, and takes its is inspiration from multiple books.  Each season has a main overriding story arc and at least one other sub plot.  The killing of Bosch’s mother when he was a child has featured in all four seasons.  Bosch’s ex wife and teenage daughter become increasingly involved.  There are also a couple of other stories that stench across seasons. As good as the stories are, the greatest strength of the show is the characters, Bosch in particular.

If you haven’t already, time to start binging.   

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Annihilation

Before I say anymore, let me nail my colours to the mast; the cinema is the best place to watch films, I watch over a hundred films in the cinema and have done so for the past twenty years.  Regardless of how good a home setup is, it isn’t the same, therefore home viewing is a last resort! Why am I telling you this?

I have recently watched Alex Garland’s new movie Annihilation at home, and not at the cinema, not by choice, but because short of a transatlantic flight it wasn’t possible for me to see the film as the director intended.

To give a little context, this is not a direct to video release in the traditional sense, made by Paramount Pictures and Scott Rudin Productions, the film was intended for a cinema/theatrical release.  Then a financier at Paramount got cold feet when test audiences described the film as “too intellectual” and “too complicated”.  Said financier was then kind enough to spare us stupid audiences the embarrassment of being confused by the film, what a hero!  The studio decided to release the movie properly in the US and China but sold the rest of the world rites to Netflix for their streaming service.

I suspect anyone reading this will know who Alex Garland is.  For those who don’t, he is a bit of a Renaissance Man.  I first came across him in the late 90’s when he wrote his début novel and cultural touchstone The Beach (1996), that was later turned into a far better than it is given credit for movie.  His next novel The Tesseract (1998) was equally as good; it was also turned into a film but was far too abstract to work on screen.  His final (as yet) novel The Coma (2004) featured fantastic woodcut illustrations by his father, Nicholas Garland.Alex Garland Novels

Garland then turned to screenwriting producing a mixture of adaptations and original stories for: 28 Days Later (2002), Sunshine (2007), 28 Weeks Later (2007), Never Let Me Go (2010), and Dredd (2012).Alex Garland screenwriting

He then made his directorial début with one of the best, and most intelligent movies of 2015, Ex Machina, the film that also introduced most of us to the brilliant Alicia Vikander.  This brings us up to date and to Annihilation.   As you may expect from all this background, I loved Annihilation and am greatly disappointed that I did not get to see it as intended on the big screen.Alicia Vikander Ex Machina

A brief synopsis: A lighthouse in Florida is hit by a meteor.  The area is quickly overtaken by a “shimmer” that blocks all communication with the outside world.  For reasons that happen in the first act, but I don’t want to spoil, a biology professor (Natalie Portman) joins an expedition led by a doctor (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to ender the shimmer.  Things get a little strange from here.Annihilation

I went into the movie knowing about as much, possibly even less than I have described above and think the film is the better for it.  What follows works on so many levels.  The film is loosely based on a novel by Jeff VanderMeer, it is reported that Garland read the novel once, then wrote a script based on it without refereeing back to the book.  Without reading the book, which I haven’t it is impossible to tell how much of the subtext is Garland and how much is author Jeff VanderMeer.  The strongest themes that come out are grief and depression, but this is all overshadowed by a compulsion to dominate and destroy.  Does this refer to the West’s interference in the rest of the world, our refusal to accept integration, or simply our destruction of the environment?  Probably a mixture of all of the above! Its strength comes not from the answers it gives, but from the questions it asks, thus making the film not about black and white absolutes, but about what we the audience bring to it.  I have heard comparisons with  Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival; while the subject matter has little more than a passing resemblance, the mood very similar.Annihilation

As well as the brilliant, and aforementioned Natalie Portman and Jennifer Jason Leigh, the cast also includes Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny and Oscar Isaac, all of whom are excellent.  The subject of the largely female cast is broached and dismissed brilliantly within the narrative.  However, I can’t help the sad feeling that at least part of the studios lack of confidence in the project stems from the shortage of Y chromosomes!  I can only assume that Netflix paid all or most of the budget, reported to be around $50million, why else would the studio take such drastic action, they would have almost certainly made its money back.  Interestingly, it is actually Netflix that come out of this looking best following the critical mauling they have recently received for their Sci-Fi, “Netflix Originals” needed a credible movie.  What Happened to Monday was good but lacked any buzz on release the way it would have given a cinema release.  David Ayer’s Bright, and Duncan Jones’s Mute were both better than reported.  The Cloverfield Paradox’s surprise-release certainly got people talking, but not in a good way, I haven’t seen it so don’t know if the reaction is fair.  With Annihilation, Netflix have a degree of credibility, and have also got people talking, this can’t be a bad thing for them.Annihilation

We are in a strange time for cinema as technology is moving faster than the film industry can understand.  It may be a period that ends with films being simultaneously released for both home and theatrical release as advocated by film critic Mark Kermode.

This all adds up to a brilliant film, that should be seen on a big screen, a screen we measure in feet not inches!

 

 

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I subscribed to Netflix, predominantly for TV, namely the Marvel TV shows.  I have enjoyed them all, Jessica Jones being the best of them.  I have since mainly watched TV show, including: Breaking Bad, The OA, The Expanse , 13 Reasons Why, Hannibal, and Orphan Black (that I had started watching on the BBC).  I have recently also started watching Star Trek Discovery and Mindhunter, both of which are excellent from the couple of episodes I have seen. 

I have also watched several movies, mainly older ones that I have wanted to re-watch.  This is because I see most films that I want to see at the cinema.  Netfix (and Amazon Prime) can be useful for catching up on films that I missed at the cinema, and those that didn’t get a wide enough release to make in to a cinema near me.  And this is the problem.  With Netflix (and Amazon) getting more into the business of making movies are the chances of seeing some films on the big screen diminishing?  Is this a 21st century version of the vertical integration of Hollywood’s studio system? A system ended in 1948, when the U.S. Supreme Court issued the Paramount decision, aka the Hollywood Antitrust Case of 1948.  Not exactly but there are similarities.  I hope the industry can find a solution to the issue without the need for legislation, or one of the methods of screening suffering.mcu-netflix

The reason I have come to this conclusion; I have seen two films recently on Netfix that I would have liked to have seen on the big screen.  The first, Gerald’s Game is a Netfix Original, the second The Bad Batch skipped UK cinemas after Netflix acquired SVOD rights.

Gerald’s Game: Based on a Stephen King novel and directed by Mike Flanagan who had previously made the excellent Oculus.  Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood play a married couple who visit an isolated lake house in an attempt to rekindle their relationship.  Gerald (Greenwood) suffers a heart attack leaving Jessie (Gugino) handcuffed to the bed without the hope of rescue.  At times it goes where you expect it to, at others it will surprise you. Geralds Game

The Bad Batch: Ana Lily Amirpour’s follow-up to A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night.  A young woman (Suki Waterhouse) dropped inside a vast fenced-in wasteland, declared to be outside of the U.S. and thus, American laws no longer apply.  There she encounters many strange people, most notably a group of cannibals.  The movie drifts along with a strange dreamlike narrative occasionally finding its way back to a plot.  It has been compared to every near future or exploration movie you can think of, none of these are appropriate, although the look and tone sometimes make me think of Peter Watkins’ Punishment Park.the bad batch

I really enjoyed both movies but with one big reservation.  I really wanted to see them on the big screen, but for different reasons.  The Bad Batch is beautifully shot in a vast landscape that needs a big screen.  As a horror/thriller, Gerald’s Game has moments that are best enjoyed with an audience.  But my thoughts go deeper than this;  if Netflix are making movies, or buying distribution rights before they make it to the big screen, this is surely the start of a new era of filmmaking.  A two tier system where cinema can be the only loser, and if cinema is a loser, the ultimate loser is the audience.

It is clear that streaming is the future of the home cinema market.  I don’t have a problem with movies being released on VOD at the same time as at the cinema; letting people watch movies at home legally and cheaply is a good way to cut down on piracy, but not when it’s at the expense of cinema screenings.  Streaming needs to be an addition or alternative to cinema not a replacement. 

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With Mixed reviews, you may be wondering if The Defenders is worth watching.  The Simple answer if you have seen and enjoyed any of The other Marvel TV shows, yes, if you haven’t, No.  This doesn’t stop me expressing my thoughts: 

Story: If you are reading this, you probably already know all you need to know; the stars of their respective shows: Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist team up to fight The Hand in New York. Although not the best story we have seen so far in Marvels TV universe, it is probably the most focused.  The meeting of the quartet is less forced than it could have been.  The villains are believable with coherent motives.   After a little build up and a brief introduction of the characters for the uninitiated, the action kicks in and doesn’t really stop.  Each ending on note that strikes the perfect balance between narrative closer and making you want to watch, just one more episode, it is the closest Marvel have come to recreating for the screen what it is to read a comic book; but its on Netflix so you don’t have to wait a week for the next part!  The Defenders

Main Characters: All four characters are archetypes and this is exacerbated by the scenario, they each become an even more extreme example of who they are.  The story does play a little on their individual abilities and character traits, but not as much as you would expect.

Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter): remains the best character. The cynical, hard drinking private detective is possibly the most clichéd of the characters but Ritter pulls it off with such charisma and fun that it really doesn’t matter.  It is like she is in a different show to the others, but in a good way.

Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox): A great charter in his own show; dramatically, he shrinks a little in the presence of the others, he does have some great dialogue with Ritter, and some of the best fight scenes.  Daredevil is a more interesting character the angst/catholic guilt ridden Matt Murdock.

Luke Cage (Mike Colter): The boy scout of the crew, Luke Cage can’t help but do the right thing regardless of personal consequences, the Captain America of the group.

Danny Rand (Finn Jones): The weakest link from their own shoes, Iron Fist has the most significant role within the plot.  The billionaire needs to be a little more fun, a little more Tony Stark.   Defenders

Secondary Characters: Most of the secondary characters have already been seen in the individual shows.  While a few of these characters have previously been the most interesting and compelling characters in the shows, they are largely sidelined here to make space for the leads:

Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson): The MVP of the individual shows isn’t given anything to do, but is as great as you would expect with the little she has to do.

Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson): The weakest character in the show has one perfunctory role within the plot.

Misty Knight (Simone Missick): Joins up a few tots in the plot and provides a little sass. We also get a hint at where her character is going.

Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick): Has her moments in the latter episodes but is largely sidelined.

Stick (Scott Glenn): Given the dual role of (deadpan) comic relief and Basil Exposition Glenn performs admirably.

Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor): Has one interesting scene and does nothing else.

Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll): Given precisely nothing to do, the character could have been totally dropped without any real impact on the plot. The Defenders Secondary Characters

Villains: We have already seen The Hand in Iron Fist and Daredevil, now they are out of the shadows, front and centre with an agenda.

Alexandra Reid (Sigourney Weaver): Ever wondered who is in charge of The Hand? Sigourney Weaver leaves us in no doubt, Alexandra Reid is the epitome of the Alpha Dog, Weaver plays her with determination, but also in a believable way.

Elektra Natchios (Elodie Yung): Brought back from the dead, Elektra provides both the antagonist and strangely some of the heart of the show.  As you would expect, she also gets a lot of the best action.

The five “fingers” of the Hand also include Madame Gao (Wai Ching Ho) reprising her role, and Bakuto (Ramón Rodríguez) who we met in Iron Fist as Wing’s former sensei. The Hand

Conclusion: The show has its issues but with a punchy high action plot it is compelling and binge worthy in the way Netflix must have hoped.  In keeping the characteristics of the individual characters undiluted the show can still work for an audience that hasn’t seen, or doesn’t like all the previous shows.  This takes us back to the beginning; if you have enjoyed any of The other Marvel TV shows, you will probably like this. 

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The Expanse

Anyone who read my article a couple of weeks ago will know that I recently signed up with Netflix. I still believe that the cinema is the best place to watch a film, the larger the screen the better.  For this reason I still visit the cinema an average of twice a week.  It will therefore come as no surprise that I watch more TV than movies on Netfix.  I have mainly been catching up on shows that I have been keen to see for some time but not gotten around to, however, I have just watched The Expanse based on the robotic recommendation of Netflix.the-expanse

For those who haven’t heard of it (I hadn’t a week ago), the Expanse is scf-fi crime drama / space opera.  Based on the series of books by James S. A. Corey ( a pen name for collaborators Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) set in a future where has spread out and colonized other planets.  The United Nations controls earth, Mars has its own military government.  Both planets depend on the resources of The Belt, the outer planets and asteroids whose inhabitants are treated like second class citizens.  The largest planet is Ceres (a real place, it is a dwarf planet in the orbit of Neptune located in the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.  It is named after the Roman goddess of agriculture).  In the belt air and water are in short supply and are therefore a precious commodity.  The three factions are on the brink of war.  As a viewer we follow three main characters who stumble across a conspiracy and can’t let go:

Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo): UN Assistant Undersecretary of Executive Administration who becomes personally involved in events.chrisjen-avasarala-shohreh-aghdashloo

Joe Miller (Thomas Jane): an archetypal heavy drinking police detective on Ceres who is given an assignment that he isn’t supposed to solve.joe-miller-thomas-jane

Jim Holden (Steven Strait): an officer on an ice haulage ship who fall down a rabbit-hole that begins when he answers a distress call.

The opening credits have elements of The Man in the High Castle and Game of Thrones lending an air of familiarity.  The show itself is well constructed with great use of time.  Rather than relying on simple flashbacks within scenes the narrative moves around within its timeline with the same dexterity as it does within its universe.  This is achieved with a mixture of clearly dated and ambiguous variations that work well to keep the drama tense.  The story is similarly well constructed keeping an air of uncertainty and excitement.  Many of them main characters are well rounded and developed with believable histories, they are however, largely clichéd and unoriginal.  The acting is solid and natural without any wooden or over the top performances, however, on the other hand it lacks any of the standout performances that we can expect on modern TV shows.  It clearly doesn’t have the budget of a cinema movie or top TV show but the effects really aren’t bad and largely, it actually looks good.  The costumes are a little hit and miss with the space set elements using an effective mix of military uniforms and industrial overalls.  The planet based characters fall into most of the same clichés of other similar shows.   The biggest visual problem though, is Thomas Jane’s haircut.  Both too flamboyant and high maintenance for the deadbeat character he plays, but more significantly, it looks stupid.  The vehicles and planets have a sense of believably and reality as we have seen in Battlestar Galactica and Firefly.  It also shares a dirty industrial look of these shows.the-expanse-florence-faivre

It isn’t a classic show within the genre that we will be seeing alongside Battlestar Galactica and Game of Thrones on best of lists, but it does have both a charm and quality making it worth a recommendation.  I am looking forward to season two. 

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I have been hearing the term Long-form television a lot recently. It is a term I had never heard of a few years ago. There doesn’t appear to be a single definitive definition of the term, for the purposes of this article I will take it to describe a TV show with a story arc that runs across multiple episodes. In some cases this can run over an whole season, or the run of an entire show.

Although most of the shows I grew up with were made up of single plot episodes there were a few that would fall into what we now call long-form. These days every other show seems to be long-form, they aren’t limited to any particular genre. The Wire and the Danish show The Killing, cover crime drama, Homeland is a spy thriller; House of Cards a political drama, Battlestar Galactica, Sci-Fi, The Walking Dead, Horror; Game of Thrones, fantasy.game-of-thrones

I was initially skeptical about talk of television being better than films. However I am beginning to see the benefit of some of the best examples. It would be impossible make a film with the characters and plot strands seen in Game of Thrones, even if it was a Peter Jackson length film. I am not however a total convert, the limitations of length of feature films can promote creativity and result in the true art. There is also something appealing about watching a complete story, and that is what prompted me to write this. I recently watched all eight episodes of True Detective in two sittings. It struck me that not only was I watching it like a film, but this was the best way to watch it. When I thought about it isn’t the first time I have binged on TV shows, I am actually watching Boardwalk Empire as I write this.true detective

It appears I am not alone, listening to the Rotten Tomatoes podcast, they talk of television as cinemas equal and are as interested in the new shows as they are in new film releases. In the latest episode the main topic of conversation was season two of Orange Is the New Black and how they intended to binge watch it. This is possible thanks to Netflix releasing the whole season in one go and not showing it over three months the way it would be on TV.  We are watching TV shows as (long) films, this is interesting as films are becoming more like TV with franchises and book series adaptations.  Orange Is the New Black

Cinema is still my first love, television is not cinema and will never be cinema, it is a very different beast. I am however happy to enjoy televisions renaissance and the quality shows that it is delivering. But more importantly the way the internet has given us a new, easier and more flexible way of enjoying it.  Whatever happens, I am sure people will look back on this time as a time of change in media, hopefully it will continue to be a change for the better.  

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