While we have had access to Netflix Instant Watch for over a year, we didn’t really start using it until this past summer. This week I fell even more in love with it after discovering tons of children’s programs that appeal to Benjamin (namely Dora, Caillou, and his latest craze, The Backyardigans). I’ve also developed an interest in the PBS news program Frontline, since Netflix offers several of its episodes via instant watch. Here’s a run down on the various instant watch titles we’ve been watching over the past few weeks:
- Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog – I had already watched this once, when it was available on Hulu, but it was worth checking out again. It reminds me how talented and funny Neil Patrick Harris is, and how much less interesting the tv landscape is without a Joss Whedon show.
- The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – My biggest complaint about this movie is that it was simply too long. Surely the director/editors could have figured out a way to trim the middle section by a half hour or so. I was fascinated by the first hour (seeing “old man” Benjamin learn to walk/talk/read, etc.), bored by the second (almost to the point that I gave up on the movie), and satisfied by the last 45 minutes (especially the way Benjamin grieved the impending loss of life as he knew it, since he would soon be a child). It’s definitely an unusual story, and I wasn’t sure what it would look like for someone to be born as an old man. They way the story was written made it all make sense. This movie is entertaining because of its concept (a man who is born old and goes through life aging backwards), but it felt like they were trying to make it into a Forrest Gump type of epic. So on that level, it failed – that is, it didn’t feel grandiose enough to me. The acting and writing weren’t that great either. Still, Brad Pitt’s old man to young man make up was rather convincing, and I was emotionally invested in the story enough that I cried at the end. If you have nearly three hours to spare, this one is worth watching. I had to watch in three or four installments, but I’m glad I finished.
- Frontline: Digital Nation – For the past couple of years, ever since I joined the Facebook culture, I have been fascinated by this topic of how technology is affecting the way we communicate and interact with one another. So I thoroughly enjoyed this report on just that – how smart phones, Facebook, online gaming, etc. are changing our relationships and daily lives. As a college English teacher, I was interested in the segment about how students are “multitasking” in the classroom – texting, Facebooking, and googling while also taking notes or listening to a lecture. It was interesting that a research study found that these students weren’t as good at multitasking as they thought. Doing so many things at once greatly diminishes their ability to retain information, to concentrate, etc. I also enjoyed the segment about online gaming. It focused on the way that gamers form online communities and friendships, and sometimes evenmeet their future spouse in the game. I do wish the reporters would have investigated how these online relationships affect these individuals’ “real life” relationships. Something just seems wrong about being so absorbed in a fantasy world, even if you are “meeting” the same people there every day. Doing so makes them miss so much of the physical world around them!
- Teen Wolf – Yup, a classic Michael J. Fox ’80s movie. I’m pretty sure a teenager watching this movie today would think it was awful. I must admit it is pretty bad – maybe “campy” is a better word. But if only for nostalgia’s sake, I thoroughly enjoyed watching it. One of my favorite thing about watching old movies is getting on IMDB and finding out what the actors have done since. In the case of Teen Wolf, most of their careers fizzled out by the end of the ’80s (it was released in ’85 – the same year as The Goonies). Doug Savant of Desperate Housewives had a minor role as one of teen wolf’s basketball teammates, but other than him and Michael J. Fox, no one else has had much success since. It was interesting to learn that Jerry Levine (the wolf’s goofy sidekick Stiles) has gone on to a successful career as a tv director, working on such shows as Life Unexpected, Monk, and Everybody Hates Chris. Who knew that someone who started out car surfing in Teen Wolf would go on to succeed behind the camera?
- Babies – This documentary was surprisingly fascinating. I expected it to be cute, but it also managed to provide a lot of insight into the similarities and differences of babies in different cultures – all without a single line of narration. A camera crew followed the lives of four babies from birth until they were about one year old. The babies lived in the San Francisco, Tokyo, Mongolia, and Namibia. There was a recurring contrast of the U.S. and Japanese babies’ sterile, perhaps overprotected environment, and the Mongolian and Namibian babies’ less structured, more “anything goes” environment. Of course, you can’t base your view of an entire culture’s way of raising a baby based on one family, but still it was eye opening to see things like the Mongolian mother cleaning her baby’s face with breast milk and the Namibian mother putting mud on her baby’s head.It was strange to see families living so “in the wild” even in our modern world. The Mongolian family seemed to be farmers, and they lived in a one room hut in the middle of their fields. The baby would crawl right out the opened door and hang out with the cattle. One time he was sitting in a basin for a bath, and a goat walked up to the door and started drinking the bath water! The Namibian mother was always shown sitting with other mothers and children, outside, with dust blowing around them and flies buzzing around. She was shown nursing the baby and her older child at the same time, and the atmosphere was very relaxed. They let the babies put rocks in their mouth, crawl around in a stream drinking from shallow water full of sediment, etc. Such a stark contrast to the hippie San Fran parents who were taking their daughter to some kind of New Age music class (“The Earth is our Mother and provides for us all…, or something like that), or the Japanese mother taking her daughter on play dates at the park with all the other moms/babies/strollers/baby wrap. This was a fun movie to watch with Benjamin. He was just as fascinated as I was!
- The ‘Burbs – This Tom Hanks comedy/horror movie from 1989 is one of my favorites from that decade. I have watched it so many times, and yet I still thoroughly enjoyed it this time. First of all, it is simply funny. Sure, there are some cheesy moments, but the predicaments that these curious/paranoid neighbors find themselves in are very awkward and amusing. Secondly, there’s a lot of truthful commentary here about how things really are in the suburbs. People often wonder about the “Boo Radley” of the neighborhood – the one who doesn’t mow his lawn, take out his trash, ever go anywhere, etc. (Yeah, we have one of those.) It’s fun to see characters in a movie actually do the investigating that most people would never actually do in a real life situation. Tom Hanks has had tons of success as a dramatic actor, but I really prefer his older comedy movies (Big is another of my favorites). And if these reasons aren’t enough to love The ‘Burbs, just remember that it features Corey Feldman and Carrie Fisher, as well as that creepy red-headed kid (Courtney Gains) from the original Children of the Corn! I don’t know how anyone could watch this movie and not like it. Please leave a comment if you disagree with me.
So that sums up what I’ve been watching lately. I have about 40 more titles in my queue, many of them documentaries and episodes of Frontline. But my favorite instant watch titles are those that take me back to my younger days (in addition to the ones listed above I’ve watched Flatliners, Soapdish, and Interview with a Vampire, and have Clash of the Titans, Police Academy, and Clueless in my queue). I hope that Netflix will continue to add new ’80s and ’90s movies to Instant Watch. I’m sure I’m not the only one who will enjoy revisiting them! Let me know what you’ve enjoyed viewing on Instant Watch.