Reflections On My Netflix Queue

Primer: I’m a total sucker for movies that break open your head and punch you in the brain, so Primer was right up my alley. Friends accidentally invent a time machine; their relationship–and chronology itself–rapidly becomes complicated. It’s one of those films, like Memento and Mulholland Dr., that pretty much necessitates repeated viewing. I watched it one night, spent about an hour the next morning studying this diagram, and then watched it a second time the following evening. I’d probably watch it again right now if I hadn’t already returned it. It’s not a fantastic film, but compelling as all get-out. Warning: aforementioned diagram gives away the entire plot of the film. You won’t understand it, but I feel obligated to include a spoiler warning nonetheless.

The Illusionist: Conversation with The Queen, the day after I watched this film.

The Queen: Do you want to watch that movie tonight?

Me: Which one?

Q: The magician one.

M: Uhh, actually I watched it last night and sent it back to Netflix this morning.

Q: What? I wanted to see that!

M: You didn’t, trust me.

Q: I was totally looking forward to it.

M: Maybe so, but you would have hated it. It pretended to be about magicians, and turn-of-the-century Vienna, and blah and blah and blah, but it was really just a very conventional romance gussied up like a thriller, full of twists you see coming 20 minutes before they arrive on screen.

Q: Even so, where do you get off deciding what movies I do and don’t get to see from out queue? I at least wanted to compare it to the book.

M: I’m pretty sure you didn’t read the book.

Q: I did! We both did!

M: Oh. Um, you’re thinking of The Prestige. And you did see it. We watched it together, like, four days ago.

{Pause}

Q: Oh, that’s right. Never mind.

Deadwood: Season 1: I’m not a much of a fan of westerns, but that’s okay because Deadwood isn’t must of a western. Set in a small South Dakotian gold mining camp in the 1870′s, it certainly has all the trappings of a Western, what with the guns and poker and whiskey and breeches and tormented sheriffs and diabolical saloon owners and robots. But after the obligatory shoot-out in the pilot, it settles down to be a fairly conventional ensemble drama. One thing I love about the show is the short seasons: each only has 12 episodes. So instead of six episodes of plot, 12 episodes of mid-season-stalling-for-time, and then six episodes of wrap-up (as you would get with a standard, 24 episode serial–think LOST), every installment of Deadwood moves the story forward fairly significantly. A little too much, actually, given that major characters drop like flies, and plot twists to which other shows would have devoted an entire season (e.g., the coming of smallpox) and dealt with here in three episodes and forgotten. Still, highly recommended–doubly so if you enjoy hearing the word “cocksucker” spoken 304 times an hour. I was lying about the robots.

Off The Black: One of those films that I added to my queue back in the day and somehow percolated to the top without my ever noticing. Nick Nolte is fairly astonishing in his role as a drunken umpire rapidly coming apart at the seams, but everything else about this film hews pretty closely to the standard “indie” film formula: a buncha quirky misfits who form unlikely bonds as they navigate the extraordinary and banality of everyday life. Off The Black reminded me quite a bit of The Station Agent–which was too bad, because it didn’t come close to stacking up.

Casino Royale: Great film. And actor Daniel Craig is easy on the eyes–or so The Queen felt compelled to mention about two dozen times during the movie.

* * *

24 comments.

  1. Have to agree about Deadwood – I’d heard it was ‘the Sopranos set in the Wild West’, but I didn’t think it was as good as that. Still good, but I too was surprised how early major characters are shot.

  2. Actually, it’s South Dakotan. Or, if you prefer to be an ass and group us in with our uncouth, backwards neighbors, Dakotan.

  3. You really thought Casino Royale was a great film? I loved(!) the action in the first act and agree whole-heartedly with The Queen about Craig’s charisma and general Bondiness, but the last act was ridiculous! I couldn’t buy into the supposed tension generated from the card game and then the plot just disintegrated. Just my 2 cents.

  4. I agree about Primer. It sucked you into its weird world. I loved the early scenes with the startup – it felt like eavesdropping on a conversation in Silicon Valley: you hear the same buzzwords, the same twisted logic, the same intensity about something you have no understanding of. While not a perfect film, it was gripping – my wife and I discussed it for days. And I am a sucker for movies where one person did everything. That guy wrote it, starred in it, directed it, edited it, and even wrote the soundtrack. I am envious of his energy!

  5. I can completely identify with The Queen’s confusion over “The Illusionist” and “The Prestige.” They both came out in the theatres at about the same time. I mistakenly saw “The Illusionist,” thinking I was going to the other film that I had seen advertised. It was ok, but I was disappointed about the fact that it was a romance instead of a movie about magicians.

    Still haven’t seen “The Prestige.”

  6. I can completely identify with The Queen’s confusion over “The Illusionist” and “The Prestige.” They both came out in the theatres at about the same time. I mistakenly saw “The Illusionist,” thinking I was going to the other film that I had seen advertised. It was ok, but I was disappointed about the fact that it was a romance instead of a movie about magicians.

    Still haven’t seen “The Prestige.”

  7. Oh good! My boyfriend and I spent probably 20 minutes in the Blockbuster the other night arguing about whether The Illusionist or The Prestige was supposed to be the good magician movie. I’m glad we picked the right one.

    Primer was fantastic! The first thing I did after watching it was google it and then spend a while studying that diagram. It was also really cool to see a movie made by someone who knows what experimental technology really looks like, y’know? (Slapped together out of PVC & Radio Shack parts, not like something out of ST:TNG.)

  8. I saw the Illusionist first and I thought it was far better than The Prestige. But then I am a sucker for out of the ordinary romances. I actually preferred that surprise to the weird unexpected sci-fi turn of The Prestige. I don’t know about the Queen, but if I were her, I’d Netflix it again and see for myself.

    That said, all the actors in both movies did a great job; though I especially liked David Bowie’s role in The Prestige – the very low-key concerned Nikola Tesla… Very nice job there (I always like to see David Bowie in movies, even if they’re bad).

  9. Primer: I love weird shit like that. I think the look of the film is what got me. It looked like it was made on a camcorder. Kind of added to to independence of it. The Illusionist and the Prestige: arent they the same movie?

  10. Thank you, Thank you! For pointing out that the Illusionist was a waste of a movie. I normally love Ed Norton but his fake accent was grating and his character annoying and predictable. The movie wasn’t even filmed in Vienna. The Prestige, on the other hand, is now in my permanent collection.

  11. The Prestige was a better movie than The Illusionist, but has a worse title.

    The Queen is abso-diddley-utely correct about Daniel Craig. And while commenter “Josh,” above, is right about the film’s ending, I don’t care. I would BUY that movie. Because, you know, Daniel Craig is quite damn easy on the eyes.

  12. Oh, but he is so easy on the eyes! How could she not mention it? Honestly.

    Although, Mads Mikkelsen I think outshines him in both hotness factor and damaged psyche allure.

    Hooray for a Bond movie that objectifies men as well as the women.

  13. My husband might be putting two and two together. Prior to Daniel Craig, the only way to get me to sit through a Bond movie would have been to do some Bond-like torture.

    Now, I’ve actually rented Casino Royale twice “for my husband” and I think I’ll buy it for him for his birthday. So, you know, he can watch it. Especially the tied to the chair naked scene – I have a feeling it’s his favorite part.

  14. Casino Royale is like milk. Some people can digest it, others get sick. I got sick. I just cant fathom how people could have enjoyed one minute of it.
    Of course, I think Deadwood is some of the most entertaining stuff ever done. Al Swearengen is brilliant.

  15. If you need some B-movie goodness, you should add Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter to your queue. Kinda odd, kinda amusing, and was probably produced for about $65. What more can you ask for? I chuckled.

    Ah, Swiggen!

  16. mmmmmm, daniel craig. him in those ’60s-style swim trunks in the ocean, the tuxedos, the physique. and of course the character too: the intelligence, the endurance, the tenderness. hell yes. did i mention the ocean scene?

  17. I loved the first season of Deadwood. Then partway through the second, I send all the DVDs back- it just got so *boring*.

    Either way, I really wish that South Dakota was more like Deadwood. It might be more interesting to drive through. To be fair, everyone I know from SD is terribly nice and never cusses. But! South Dakota does have drive-through liquor stores and signs in the Super 8 hotel rooms asking hunters to not clean freshly killed animals in the hotel bathtubs.

  18. Hey, no fair! We tried to watch Casino Royale from Netflix, and it wouldn’t work in our DVD player. Darn you, DRM!

    I liked The Illusionist, if only for its sepia-toned production values. That, and Jessica Biehl looked pretty good in both jodhpurs and ballgowns.

  19. Illusionist over The Prestige. It had some substance, a good story of a poor kid making it big with a few tricks and hooking up with the a rich princess with a lot of junk in her trunk. That has been my fantasy for years.

    The Prestige was a so-so movie sticking to big names and standard plot formulas. I got it the next day after I got the Illusionist hoping for some of the same spirit and I was let down…. not by much but it didn’t give me that spark of entertainment.

    Matt, watch the Illusionist, but in a couple weeks so you get a fresh perspective.

  20. If you like the mind-bending stuff and episodic serial TV that moves the plot forward, without a doubt, you need to get your hands on a BBC show called Life on Mars. There were only two seasons aired, something like 16 episodes in total, but the brevity of the series and the tightness of its story arc were very purposefully planned by its creators. The basic synopsis of the show is that a Manchester detective (Sam Tyler) investigating a particular crime is involved in a car accident; when he wakes up, he is in 1973. Each episode of the show has elements of a classic cop show plot, with the superadded dimension that the series as a whole is also challenging the viewer to decide (as Sam tries to decide for himself) whether he has actually time-travelled to 1973, has gone mad, or is in a coma and just imagining the events depicted in each episode. Sam is, of course, attempting to figure out how to “return” to his life in current-day Manchester all the while. The writing is absolutely top-notch, with each episode like a loving homage to the cop shows genre in general and 70s cop shows in particular, with the “time travel” question and the changes in social and policing mores permeating the whole cloth of the show and putting an absolutely fresh twist on the formula. The acting is also quite good, and some of the characters (such as Sam Tyler’s 1973 cop boss Gene Hunt) are extremely memorable and entertaining. I know that the basic nutshell explanation (time travelling cop) sounds a little doubtful, but my wife and I absolutely devoured all sixteen episodes and both felt it was the best show we’d ever seen on television. I know that the show was being broadcast on a network called Showtime here in Canada – but I’m pretty sure our “Showtime” is a totally different company than the American “Showtime”. It is also – ahem – possible to locate copies of the show on teh Intarwebs if you are familiar with Bitcomet and torrents.

    Suffice to say that the amount of entertainment and plot development that the writers of this show managed to stick into sixteen episodes will make you want to fling everyone involved in the production of Lost into a very deep portion of the ocean.

    Meanwhile, I will take your recommendation and finally open up the box of DVDs containing season 1 of Deadwood. Now, how am I going to convince my wife to watch wild-west robot gunfights?

    p.s. I’m ready to go for NaNoReMo and I’m going to try posting along at my own site as you suggested.

  21. Prestige over Illusionist, although I seriously do not have the patience for trickly thrillers. Neither did much for me.

    Anyway- BOOOONNDDD!!! There isn’t much to say except that the freerunning scene is brilliant– and that Eva Green holds her own in the train scene (that NEVER would be in the older bond movies! Possibly maybe an Avengers episode instead…). I am all for the sensitivity and toughness and tenderness of Craig (oh yes) but Green is amazing in her little part. Just thought I should mention.

  22. I much prefer the Prestige. However the one thing I love about the Illusionist I learned by watching some of the extra features (or commentary, or something): that hallway he walks down that’s just STUFFED with antlers and deer heads and other unfriendly looking hunting trophies? I believe it’s in the trailer, also here but looking slightly less impressive.
    http://farm1.static.flickr.com/124/363785724_bfaafc5b80.jpg
    The point is it’s a real hallway, not a set, in the fortress of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria.
    Okay, maybe that’s creepy, but cool.

  23. I love Deadwood. Fuck fuck fuckity fuck!

    Also, rent the movie “Apple.” It’s a trippy disco remake of the Book of Genesis. I think it has flying cars and coke-addled disco numbers. Sort of like “Casino Royale.”

  24. Mr. Baldwin, our opinions are similar! Primer was fantastic, even if I felt manipulated to stay interested through the general vagueness and obfuscation. Like you, I watched it again the next day. Deadwood- also fantastic. I just finished Season 3 a couple months ago and spent a few days cursing HBO for canceling such a brilliant series. Apparently there may be 3 ‘made for HBO’ movies made to wrap it all up. Daniel Craig is excellent as bond, hopefully the next film will keep the energy up throughout the film. The Pakour scene was so great, the rest of the film felt somewhat dull in comparison. The Prestige was better than The Illusionist by a country mile.