How to Improve Netflix

Yes­ter­day I down­grad­ed our Net­flix account from three DVDs at a time to two. Have I got­ten so much as an email ask­ing me why? Nope! Net­flix may be the most suc­cess­ful com­pa­ny I use that does­n’t seem to care about cater­ing to their sub­scriber base. What makes me say that? Since I signed up, I can’t think of a sin­gle fea­ture they’ve man­aged to improve. You might say, “But they rolled out stream­ing for your pre­cious Xbox,” but even that came with its own set of prob­lems. Net­flix is absolute­ly nowhere when it comes to solv­ing the issues that would make their ser­vice bet­ter with­out the cost­ly expense of new content.

Here’s what I’d like them to fix:

  • Shared queues. This is a great fea­ture that was spared the chop­ping block in the past year. It’s the thing that ensures that Helen and I share our account and that every­one gets their picks. His­tor­i­cal­ly, Helen’s got­ten two discs and I got one; she’d burn through sea­sons of TV while I slogged through art house flicks. It’s pret­ty great, right? It’d be even bet­ter if Net­flix could tell us which titles were on stream­ing for both queues, instead of just select­ing my queue and leav­ing it at that.
  • New releas­es. I get it. This is an embar­rass­ment that Net­flix wants you to for­get by bring­ing you more stream­ing con­tent. I’m not con­vinced. Even if we can’t have new releas­es for 28 days plus how­ev­er long it takes to get them to us, could we at least see what new stuff is out there, even if it’s just to point­less­ly update our queue. Is that so much to ask?
  • Social fea­tures. These were hor­ri­ble when they had them, but they might’ve improved them rather than wip­ing them out out­right. I know social fea­tures aren’t easy to do. It’s hard to know what peo­ple want. But I can’t think of any oth­er online movie ser­vice that peo­ple love more than Net­flix. I’m guess­ing the com­mu­ni­ty could’ve made help­ful sug­ges­tions. It would­n’t have had to involve much work prob­a­bly. At this point they could prob­a­bly get away with some degree of Face­book inte­gra­tion and let that plat­form do the heavy lifting.

Now, I’m thrilled that they’re lever­ag­ing their stream­ing con­tent to the max. Putting that stuff on any screen is great. I’ve heard plen­ty of peo­ple say there’s noth­ing good in the stream­ing library, but that’s just because they’re not real­ly into the art house con­tent. I love it! I can’t wait until I can watch an episode of 30 Rock on my iPhone as I ride the train. I just think that these tweaks will go a long way to improv­ing the ser­vice for the long haul.

So, go ahead and sur­prise me, Netflix!

How Do You Decide to Buy Criterion Collection DVDs?

Great lit­tle post over at Pul­lquote about how to ratio­nal­ize adding even more Cri­te­ri­on Col­lec­tion titles to your per­son­al DVD library. Trust me, I feel this guy’s pain. When I was real­ly a movie hound, espe­cial­ly when I start­ed tak­ing advan­tage of Deep Dis­coun­t’s mas­sive bian­nu­al sales, I would ago­nize over which titles to buy. To wit, I still haven’t pur­chased a copy of Resnais’ Hiroshi­ma Mon Amour because I felt it was too expen­sive for one disc AND that it would sure­ly go out of print when a new print was invari­ably dis­cov­ered. This is the exquis­ite pain that only tru­ly insane observers of the DVD remas­ter mar­ket can feel.

Con­verse­ly, how stu­pid do I feel for hav­ing ever bought Equinox, which I watched exact­ly one time? I think I’d has­ten to add a fol­low-up to Pul­lquote’s post: how many DVDs do you own that sit on a shelf or in a draw­er that are untouched? I con­fess to more than my fair share of these.

I feel sheep­ish even tak­ing part in con­ver­sa­tions like this now. I used to eager­ly await reg­u­lar emails from Cri­te­ri­on about their lat­est titles and then make notes in pri­or­i­ty order about which I’d buy when they went on sale. Now that I’m less bull­ish on buy­ing any sort of phys­i­cal media, they’re hard­ly a blip on my radar. I will admit that I near­ly jumped for joy when I read that they were releas­ing Red Desert, which is pos­si­bly my favorite Anto­nioni movie, even though I always say it’s L’Avven­tu­ra.

Crazy Heart

What an affect­ing film. Worth watch­ing twice, trust me. It has an inter­est­ing back­sto­ry, too. Orig­i­nal­ly intend­ed for a direct-to-video release, before Fox Search­light gave it a shot at the­atri­cal release. Hard to believe a movie with Jeff Bridges, Mag­gie Gyl­len­haal, Col­in Far­rell, and Robert Duvall would go direct-to-video. It’s the stuff the movie busi­ness eats up! It’s a music biopic! Remem­ber Walk the Line and Ray?

Bet­ter than either of those movies, Crazy Heart does­n’t bite off more than it can chew. We don’t get Bad Blake’s life sto­ry; rather, we see him in his twi­light years, fall down drunk and at the end of his rope. His songs are proof that he once had a career worth talk­ing about. He’s Hag­gard and Jen­nings and Kristof­fer­son and it’s amaz­ing to watch unrav­el. Shame that Bridges won the Oscar for a com­pos­ite char­ac­ter, but he chan­nels the Out­law ethos so perfectly.

The music’s not half bad either, and I have his­tor­i­cal­ly hat­ed any­thing T‑Bone Bur­nett touches.

Up in the Air

My friend Eric tweet­ed late last night,” ‘Up in the Air’: polite­ly mis­guid­ed lib­er­al fan­ta­sy, or egre­gious­ly clue­less and down­right offen­sive in parts Piece Of Shit?”

It made me think of the clip above. I watched Up in the Air ear­li­er this week and won­dered what the fuss was about. It tries to do a lot, but I’m not sure it accom­plish­es very much. It’s boil­er­plate romance-gone-wrong fare, freight­ed with a mes­sage about how our pri­or­i­ties are wrong and some­how the hor­ri­ble econ­o­my will help us fig­ure out what’s impor­tant. Sor­ry, Mr. Reit­man, but the notion of mak­ing lemon­ade does­n’t work when you can’t afford the lemons in the first place.

For peo­ple who’ve nev­er been laid off, it seems like the stuff dreams are made of. You’re freed from a job you prob­a­bly hat­ed any­way; you get some sev­er­ance, or at least unem­ploy­ment; and you can reeval­u­ate things and move on. Which is the log­ic that informs this amaz­ing­ly hilar­i­ous Onion arti­cle I read way back in Octo­ber 2003, when I was about six months into what would be a 2+ year under­em­ploy­ment bid.

I felt that the tes­ti­mo­ni­als that came at the end of the movie from folks who’d lost their jobs in the recent down­turn echoed the hope the Oba­ma cam­paign gave them. Their opti­mism and their reliance on fam­i­ly to sup­port them in their time of need were both very poignant, but Reit­man con­ve­nient­ly leaves out all the sto­ries from the past few years about folks who’ve lost their jobs and have then gone on to vio­lent attacks on their work­places and communities.

Is Reit­man the new W.D. How­ells, that is, some­one who puts a smi­ley face on real­ism? There’s but one “dead end” in the movie, the woman who fol­lows through on her threat to com­mit sui­cide. Every­one else just goes on their mer­ry way, for bet­ter or worse. Whether it’s find­ing a new job, or hav­ing an affair, or just run­ning away from it all thanks to a near­ly infi­nite sup­ply of fre­quent fli­er miles, every­one can find an escape from the hum­drum, if not out­right happiness.

I think it’s that that peo­ple dis­like about Reit­man’s movies. The sim­ple-mind­ed­ness. The breezy dia­logue. The beau­ti­ful peo­ple. The whole ‘resilien­cy of the human spir­it’ trope, which some­times just seems a lit­tle more real­is­tic than the way it’s pre­sent­ed here. Reit­man’s youth­ful, priv­i­leged world­view makes it dif­fi­cult to see things dif­fer­ent­ly than he does, that is, through a lens of infi­nite pos­si­bil­i­ty. The prob­lem is that Reit­man’s skies, like those in Up in the Air, are sun­ny and cloudless.