What’s Up Docs?

I’m going to keep on going with the Netflix theme because my life has been consumed with movies. Work, movies, sleep. That’s it. And I love it.

I just bought Netflix for myself. I had been using my parents for streaming purposes, but they got the DVDs by mail. $10 is worth it this summer to get any movie I want in the mail. Plus I get to rate movies with my own profile and then have Netflix make recommendations for me and only me. It recommended Irreversible for me earlier, and at that point I had to have a life evaluation. Definitely the hardest movie to watch EVER. Don’t watch it. Seriously. At all. Worse than Human Centipede. You’re going to go watch it now. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

There are two reasons I love Netflix so much:

1- I get to catch up on movies I should have seen already but haven’t, such as Terminator, Star Wars, Back to the Future, etc.

2- I get to see types of movies I haven’t even heard of and otherwise wouldn’t have been exposed to at all.

And that’s where this blog post is going. Foreign films and documentaries are two of my favorite movie genres and that is all thanks to Netflix. Without the streaming service, I wouldn’t have access to hardly any of the great foreign and docs that I’ve seen. Next time I’ll do my favorite foreign films, but now I’m going to count down my favorite documentaries. Documentaries are real, for the most part. The involve real people and real situations that these people get into. There’s no need to flash “This film is based on actual events.” It’s understood, and awesome.

For my taste, there are two ingredients to an awesome documentary. The first is that it has to be about normal people. The common man. The second is it has to be un-political. I love political documentaries, and I’d say over half of the docs on Netflix are politically driven somehow, but in order for one to really stand out for me it has to leave all that stuff at the door. The political ones are interesting, but I can only take so much negativity. And pretty much all political documentaries involve something that’s bad about society and needs to be changed. But no more stinkin’ thinkin’.  Let’s get started.

All of these I watched on Netflix Instantly. They might not all be on there still, but I’d bet most of them are.

5. Hoop Dreams

Widely regarded as one the best, if not the best, documentary of all time. ‘Hoop Dreams’ is a story about two inner city middle schoolers from Chicago who have the dream to make it to the NBA. It follows them from 8th grade all the way through high school as they pursue their dreams and deal with all the turmoil that comes with it. The best part about this movie is the span of it, how it follows them for over four years of their lives. It’s long: 3 hours. But it doesn’t seem like it. If you’re into sports at all, this is a must see.

4. Exit Through the Gift Shop

Nominated for best documentary this past year at the Oscars, ‘Gift Shop’ has had people talking and arguing for months. Made by the maybe the most famous and certainly the most secretive street artist alive, Banksy, this film has a shift in tone like any other. It’s difficult to discuss at length without giving anything away, but this one will leave you wanting more at the end without a doubt.

3. The Human Experience

No other movie made me want to get up off my ass and do something with my life more than ‘The Human Experience’. This one follows two college age kids who are living in an orphanage in New York. They decide to look far and wide in search of whatever they consider to be the human experience. They start out living on the streets of NYC for a week, then head to South America to a low income school. They end up in Africa at a leper colony. I didn’t know those still existed. It’s tough to say if this movie was motivational or depressing. It was motivational by making we me want to do something with my life, but depressing because all these people they run into seem happier than anyone I’ve met in America, while possessing so much less. It also has the best soundtrack of any movie I’ve heard in awhile.

2. The Cove

An exception to my political rule, this is a film about ‘dolphin genocide’ happening in Japan. Part political commentary, part ‘planet earth’, part action thriller, The Cove has it all. Try to watch it without crying. Completely deserved to win best documentary at the 2010 Oscars.

1. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters

This is probably the most intense documentary about old school video games I have ever seen (joke, because I haven’t seen any but this one). Steve Weibe is a down home high school teacher who happens to be really really good at Donkey Kong. He sends a tape of him beating the record to “the powers the be” on video game record holders. He challenges Billy Mitchell, who in my opinion is alongside Bill the Butcher from “Gangs of New York” as some of the greatest movie villains of all time. He’s so cunning and deceiving, and will stop at nothing to destroy Weibe and claim his reign at the top of the record books for Donkey Kong. I can’t recommend this movie enough. I could watch this film over and over and over and over again and still love it so much. How intense and suspenseful this one is for being a documentary about a video game I care nothing about is what makes this my favorite doc out there.

So there you have it. I’d love for some reccomendations of more obscure documentaries out there. I’m trying to see all I can. Learning from movies can actually be fun, trust me.


Netflix Can’t Be Stopped

It’s happening more and more all the time. Industries in America are experiencing sweeping  technological changes that not only change the way an industry works, but change people’s everyday lives. Podcasting for radio, DVR for television, Amazon for shopping, to name just a few. But the one that’s had the biggest and most interesting impact by far is Netflix in the film industry.

What started out as a simple mail-order DVD service has become, in my opinion, the best at-home entertainment option. I can’t think of a company that has grown quicker and smoother than Netflix. Started in 1997, then first publically posting revenues for the year 2003 of $272 million. That’s not bad for a 6 year old company. Still chump change compared to their 2009 revenue of $1.67 billion. I bet it’s at least at 2.5 billion now. (All these stats and all following stats are from Wikipedia and/or my brain. And yes, both are reliable sources.)

More impressive than dollars and cents is the market presence and effect on the entire movie industry. Blockbuster had an opportunity to buy Netflix early on. They didn’t, and now they are bankrupt with $900 million in debt, and owned by DirecTV. Part of this is due to Redbox, but I believe Netflix is the real finisher. Redboxes do keep popping up, but the truth is that sooner or later all movie rental will be digital whether it’s a pay-per-view service or monthly subscription online streaming.

And that’s where Netflix turned the corner from a convenient way to get movies to major industry player. You can now stream over 10,000 movies online, and  over 20,000 TV Episodes. With rough estimates, it would take you over 3 years straight to watch everything that is offered on Netflix instant. 20% of the internet bandwidth usage during prime time every night in America is used for Netflix watch instantly.

In my opinion, the reason Netflix is literally on top of the movie industry is it’s wiliness to spend the money to get the shows and movies people want to see. All the technology, customer service, speed, convenience is nothing unless they have the products that people desire. They partnered with Starz in 2008. Last year, they paid $1 billion to stream Paramount, Lions Gate, and MGM for the next 5 years. Add that to the numerous TV and delivery rights with just about everybody, you have a company that knows what the people want (everything) and knows how to get it (money). The first few seasons of the mega hit TV show Mad Men is going to be streaming in July. The price? Nearly $1 million… per episode.

Ready for Netflix to turn the next corner? That. Just. Happened. In March, they reached a deal with a new show from this-year Oscar Nominee director David Fincher and Oscar Winning actor Kevin Spacey called House of Cards to establish their first original streaming program, beating out heavyweights HBO and AMC. That’s right, you don’t have to set your DVR, you don’t have to wait for it to pop on Hulu, you’ll find it instantly, ready to watch, 24/7, ONLY on Netflix… first. Wikipedia has all the juicy details about this huge deal, but one I found most interesting is that Netflix will do absolutely nothing to advertise for it, claiming the only advertising they need is the algorithm that recommends shows to customers based on their watching patterns.

Look for a business model, and you got it in Netflix. Aside from the whole “If you stream it, they will come” method, their employee culture something unheard of. They offer unlimited vacation time for salaried workers, and the option to have any amount of their paycheck in stock. I hope when I apply to work at Netflix in a year or so they see this post… but seriously.

Although technological advances change industries constantly, what Netflix has done in the last 10 years is nothing short of phenomenal. They took the Hollywood and put it in their own hands. It’s not unreal to think that in the next couple years, Netflix will have a whole fleet of original television programming. The only question is… what else will it do?

This is My Brain on Technology

Am I Dumb? Nah. Am I Shallow? Ehhh…. Maybe.  Two books that I plan on reading this summer sure do think so. “The Dumbest Generation” and “The Shallows” are two social commentary books about my Generation Y and how our brains have been trained to be, well, useless.

Like I said, I’m writing this before reading the books, and I’m going to give you all a review once I get finished. But here’s some of my thoughts now on the subjects presented.

The way my mind is trained and conditioned is so short term, relying on instant gratification. Because of this, it can be really difficult for me to sit down and read a book. The book I’m attempting to read for pleasure now is “The Big Picture: Money and Power in Hollywood,” and it’s really good. I’m still about half way through it when I’ve been on it for about three months. If it’s hard for me to read for pleasure, then it’s really hard for me to read for class. My mind gets so distracted, and after a little while I can’t focus at all.  Then I just end up surfing the web. I stopped reading at night (but that’s because of Netflix). I sometimes can’t even focus on a movie. I catch myself browsing on my phone, checking Twitter, even playing Angry Birds. And that’s when I don’t have my laptop out.

It could be ADHD, but I know it’s not just me. One of my friends checks Facebook on his phone when he’s at a stoplight. I don’t think he’s addicted to Facebook, I think he just gets too bored at a stoplight. Our generation has become so easily bored because we are used to constant going, constant activity, and constant entertainment.

It’s not just the constancy of everything. We are trained to have every one of our questions answered immediately, and this is hindering our critical thinking skills. When I have an argument with a  friend whether it be about sports, history or anything else, the argument is solved immediately by Google, or there’s an App for it.

Can you imagine traveling without an iPod? I remember using a cassette walkman on trips to Utah. I would be so bored and impatient if that was today. Very limited selection and also having to fast forward to the song I want. Flights over oceans would be so long! We are truly in a new age of constant and portable entertainment, and it might be having serious effect on our ability to think and reflect.

One day this summer, I’m going to throw it all away and go back to basics. No phone, no iPod, no computer, no internet, no TV. Of course there are going to be exceptions to this (using my phone as an alarm clock, or the computer at work), but for the most part, I’m going cold turkey. I’ll read, sit outside, reflect, whatever. And try to remember what it would be like to live before the technology boom. It’s going to be rough.

After I finish my books, I’ll give a review and reflection. The big question is: Will I even be able to finish?