Netflix’s Newest Feature Is A Great Idea… But It’s Not There Yet!

A new feature dropped on my Netflix this week, a new icon that offers to just ‘Play Something’, essentially a random shuffling option, and I see the reason for it, there’s a good purpose for a feature like this, though I don’t think the implementation is quite as it should be yet.

The idea makes a lot of sense, it’s ideal for when you want to just ‘watch something’ but don’t have specifically what that’d be in mind. I’ve wanted something like this, even if I didn’t realize it as I’m sometimes a little overwhelmed for choice, though not considering the Netflix library as a whole.

Personally, I don’t find myself aimlessly scrolling through all Netflix has to offer for something to find. The closest I get to that scenario is when I occasionally know the genre I fancy and look to see if there’s something in that section that stands out. Regularly though, I go to where the best of Netflix has already been curated by someone whose taste I trust, an assortment of things I am likely to enjoy, my watchlist.

When I tried the feature last night, the suggestion was ‘Virgin River’, not something I’ve ever had in my watchlist, and though I’ve never seen it I don’t think it’s even particularly similar to anything else that’s in my watchlist or history. Shuffling and suggesting things I’m not all that interested in will ultimately make me less likely to use the feature, it feels like a waste of time if I just keep skipping to the next suggestion for ages before landing on something (likely already on my watchlist) I might be tempted to stick with to watch. 

I’ve checked my settings and can’t see the option I’m looking for, though if someone else has it on theirs please let me know as I’ll be interested to hear about it. Essentially, all they need to do is give options to narrow down the selection the ‘something’ could be chosen from, one for the whole Netflix library for those who want that, one that narrows it to just the profile watchlist, and possibly another popular categorization. 

It’s a interesting first version of the feature, a promising idea that, if Netflix refines it a little, could become a popular feature I’d use regularly.

Could Black Widow Get A Wonder Woman 1984-Style Release?

Here I was, putting the finishing touches on a post entitled ‘Could Disney do a Mulan-style release for ‘Black Widow?’. Yet the perils of writing about film in 2020 overtook me, as things in the movie world have shifted yet again, and there’s now a different release strategy that looks far more likely.

To summarise briefly, I was going to argue that between their reportedly underwhelming results from the ‘Premier Access’ release of ‘Mulan’, and the upcoming release of Pixar’s ‘Soul’ at no added cost to subscribers, I expected Disney to take the data gained from these two approaches and find a middle ground between them. Arguably it seemed likely Disney wouldn’t develop the PVOD infrastructure that we now know is built into Disney+ for a single-use, ultimately leading to them offering ‘Black Widow’ on ‘Premier Access’ for a more modest fee and with extended exclusivity.

Now, I’m not so sure.

Warner Bros just confirmed that they’ll be releasing the highly-anticipated tentpole ‘Wonder Woman 1984’ on their streaming service HBO Max on December 25th, the same day as the cinematic release in the US, though it will be available internationally a week earlier where HBO Max isn’t an option.

Simultaneous releases for big movies like this have been almost unheard of because the theatrical exhibitors don’t agree with them. Until now it’s been considered a strategy that would cannibalize their audience, but this year, it’s a pandemic that’s cannibalized the audience, so studios and theatres are willing to try anything to stay afloat. The theatres know they can’t keep their side of the deal like before, the box office numbers they’re bringing in are a fraction of what they used to be, so they are more willing to compromise to avoid films going entirely to streaming because they hope to get as many customers as legal capacities allow with a big tentpole like a DC movie to show. There’s an eager audience with a strong desire to see it on the big screen as intended, and the number of people wanting that experience doesn’t have to fill every seat, it can’t, so they just have to equal 50% or less, which dare I say it, should be easy enough for a four-quadrant sequel like this.

There’s also the international aspect to consider. ‘Wonder Woman’ took more than $412 in the US and $409 internationally at the box office, hugely outperforming expectations. Where HBO Max isn’t an option, WW84 should be able to fill many cinemas to their reduced capacity limits quite easily, especially around the end of year holidays as it’s more likely to appeal to the whole family than WB’s last attempt at reigniting cinemagoing, ‘Tenet’. Here in the UK, we don’t yet have HBO Max unless you want to get clever with a VPN, so I’m already making plans to get a nicely distanced seat booked at the boutique cinema near me, which I believe will adjust their screening schedule to make sure it’s there on opening night. So making a big movie like this available in cinemas wherever possible, while also catering to your locked-down biggest market via a home-based option, seems like a pretty good plan. 

So, the question now is, will Disney follow a similar approach for their delayed MCU movies like ‘Black Widow’? There are some solid reasons to think they might.

Rather than going the route of PVOD for $30 again, it seems there are already signs Disney’s moving away from that system. Their subscriber numbers for Disney+ far exceed their original projections, so they’re taking more than they were forecasted to anyway, without having to add an additional fee. Currently, there are only 9 million subscribers to HBO Max (though that will jump up in December in time for WW84’s release) while Disney+ has over 70 million, the latter having rolled out to a number of countries earlier this year. 

Disney+ ‘Premier Access’ backfired badly with ‘Mulan’. Firstly reviews weren’t overly glowing, leaving a lot of buyers feeling like it wasn’t worth the premium cost they’d just shelled out. Then stupidly just weeks later Disney released it on all other PVOD services, ones that didn’t require a Disney+ subscription on top of the cost of the movie, essentially giving a better deal to non-subscribers than their Disney+ customers, which was a really bone-headed move. Now, many who would have been tempted to pay for something via ‘Premier Access’ will be wary, holding off for a better deal, or just, like myself with ‘Mulan’, waiting a few more months for it to be included for free. 

A few weeks ago Disney announced they’d be accelerating their plans to focus on direct-to-consumer services, restructuring the business considerably in aid of their streaming services. This has had an almost immediate impact on the release schedule as it looks like they’ll be moving a number of their big films to premiere on Disney+. There were already some live-action family-focused ones such as ‘Godmothered’ set to go to the service, but I expect that will soon be followed by others including ‘Cruella’ and ‘Pinocchio’, films that would otherwise have been expected to go well in cinemas like the other live-action remakes of classics such as ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and ‘The Lion King’.

Some of those are far off anyway, while ‘Black Widow’ has been ready to release for months, and it potentially an instant huge earner, maybe close to a billion dollars if it’s anything like the rest of the MCU. However, like ‘Wonder Woman 1984’ I don’t think it will be shifted exclusively to streaming on Disney+ as there are still some countries where the service isn’t available, and even where it is, there are still some cinemas open and eager to show the film. Some of my local independent cinemas regularly show films that are simultaneously on PVOD, if the film is good and will be worth seeing on the big screen they sell enough tickets to make it worth it. A cinematic simultaneous release could suit ‘Black Widow’ very well indeed, covering most eventualities if circumstances shift, and presenting tempting avenues for the audience to finally see this film they’ve been waiting so long for. 

I’m really looking forward to finally seeing ‘Black Widow’ whenever it’s released in whatever way I can, hopefully at the cinema though I’ll be happy enough to watch it at home if needed, especially if it’s included at no extra cost in my Disney+ subscription. While nothing quite makes up for not being able to see films like these on the big screen with an audience, what’s worse is not seeing new films at all, especially when we know they’re finished and ready to be seen. 

Podcast Review: An Oral History of The Office

An Oral History of The Office (Podcast, 2020)

I don’t often review podcasts, partly as I only listen to a select few, I’m not someone who adds a lot of new shows to my podcasting repertoire. However, when I read about this one a few weeks ago it caught my attention and on listening to the podcast trailer I immediately loved listening to Brian Baumgartner (Kevin in ‘The Office’) whose voice and presenting style really enjoyable and surprisingly soothing. 

There have only been five episodes released so far, the latest of which I have yet to listen to as I’m finishing writing this early afternoon. I am loving this podcast so much, it’s now something I’m finding myself anticipating the next episode of, a little highlight in my week. Now, on a Tuesday afternoon, I’m finding myself co-ordinating my day so I can enjoy listening to it while cooking and tidying the house. The tone and style remind me quite a bit of the excellent ‘Drawn’ podcast that my brother got me into, which was a particularly good show that tells the story of animation and which is desperately in need of a second season.

This doesn’t take the episodic format like other podcasts about beloved-but-finished TV series, especially as that’s already happening with ‘The Office Ladies’ hosted by Jenna Fischer and Anglea Kinsey. My problem with that format is it makes me feel like I have to re-watch the show at as it goes, I want to refresh my memory of the episodes they’re talking about and so the podcast is a little harder to enjoy on its own merits or at the same pace as I watch the show.

This podcast takes the more easy-listening format of discussing, not the episodes themselves, but the making of the show in general. Episode one tells of the conception, gaining the rights to the British show, and the effort to get it going. Then there are episodes that go in-depth on starting production, the struggling first season, and last week I just listened to the fourth episode which deals with the period in which the show went from nearly being cancelled, to gaining huge popularity, with a perfect storm of events, many of which I didn’t know about.

Some stories and things discussed I was already familiar with, but there has been so much new information revealed too. There have been interesting and entertaining firsthand accounts from the key players, practically all of them, from almost the entire cast including Steve Carrell, producers, writers, casting directors, and even Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. One of the silver linings to lockdown is that we’re seeing these usually busy actors finding themselves more available to participate in interviews, table-reads, and podcasts, making something like this feel like a more rounded-out and ‘definitive’ account instead of just one perspective. 

I’m off now to ‘clean the kitchen’, a.k.a. listen to the next episode, and I heartily recommend it to anyone who’s interested in the production of television or films, and especially fans of ‘The Office’ as it’ll build your appreciation for the show.

‘An Oral History of The Office’ is available to listen to on Spotify and is essentially unmissable for anyone who loves the show, as well as full of great insights for those interested in television. 

Oscar Nominees List 2019/2020 & Printable Academy Awards Ballot Sheet PDF

Here’s the full list of this year’s Academy Award nominees vying to take home those coveted Oscar statues on Sunday, February 9th, 2020.

Download my PDF ballot sheet here that can be completed digitally or printed and written on old school. Have a go at predicting the winners or challenge your friends and family to do the same. I’ve put my predictions beside the nominees below, my first choice, second chance winner, and where I’ve seen some of the films and have a personally preferred nominee I’ve marked that with a ‘P’.

BEST PICTURE
“Ford v Ferrari”
“The Irishman”
Jojo Rabbit
“Joker”
“Little Women” – my review is coming soon.
“Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood”
“Marriage Story” – my review is coming soon.
1. “Parasite” – I know, it’s a bold choice, but I just have a feeling it could win because of the preferential balloting system.
2.1917

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Kathy Bates, “Richard Jewell”
1. Laura Dern, “Marriage Story” – she stands out in a film that’s all about two key lead performances, this is an easy win.
2P. Scarlett Johansson, “Jojo Rabbit
Florence Pugh, “Little Women”
Margot Robbie, “Bombshell

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Tom Hanks, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Anthony Hopkins, “The Two Popes”
Al Pacino, “The Irishman”
2. Joe Pesci, “The Irishman”
1. Brad Pitt, “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood”

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
1. South Korea, “Parasite”
2. Spain, “Pain and Glory” – It’s pointless picking a second choice, sorry Almodovar, but if Parasite didn’t exist this would win.
France, “Les Misérables”
North Macedonia, “Honeyland”
Poland, “Corpus Christi”

DOCUMENTARY (SHORT)
“In the Absence”
1. “Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl)”
“Life Overtakes Me”
2. “St. Louis Superman”
“Walk Run Cha-Cha”

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
1. “American Factory”
“The Edge of Democracy”
“Honeyland” – Interestingly also up for ‘Best International Feature’ but I’m not putting all weight behind it on that alone.
2. “For Sama”
“The Cave”

ORIGINAL SONG
“I’m Standing With You,” “Breakthrough”
“Into the Unknown,” “Frozen II”
2. “Stand Up,” “Harriet”
1. “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again,” “Rocketman” – his Oscar after-parties are legendary, the film won’t win anything else, this is almost a lock.
“I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away,” “Toy Story 4”

ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
“How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World”
“I Lost My Body”
2. “Klaus”
“Missing Link”
1. “Toy Story 4”

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
“The Irishman”
1.Jojo Rabbit
2. “Little Women”
“The Two Popes”
“Joker”

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
“Marriage Story”
2. “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”
1. “Parasite”
“Knives Out”
1917

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
Antonio Banderas, “Pain and Glory”
Leonardo DiCaprio, “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood”
2. Adam Driver, “Marriage Story”
1. Joaquin Phoenix, “Joker”
Jonathan Pryce, “The Two Popes”

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
2. Cynthia Erivo, “Harriet”
Scarlett Johansson, “Marriage Story”
Saoirse Ronan, “Little Women”
1. Renée Zellweger, “Judy”
Charlize Theron, “Bombshell

DIRECTOR
Martin Scorsese, “The Irishman”
Quentin Tarantino, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”
2. Bong Joon-ho, “Parasite”
1. Sam Mendes, “1917
Todd Phillips, “Joker”

PRODUCTION DESIGN
1. “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”
“The Irishman”
1917
Jojo Rabbit
2. “Parasite”

CINEMATOGRAPHY
1. “1917” – it’s Roger Deakins, he’s broken his streak of losses, another win seems likely.
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”
“The Irishman”
“Joker”
2. “The Lighthouse”

COSTUME DESIGN
“Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood”
1. “Little Women”
“The Irishman”
2. “Jojo Rabbit”
“Joker”

SOUND EDITING
2. 1917
1. “Ford v Ferrari”
“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”
“Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood”
“Joker”

SOUND MIXING
2. 1917
1. “Ford v Ferrari”
“Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood”
“Ad Astra”
“Joker”

ANIMATED SHORT FILM
“Dcera (Daughter)”
1. “Hair Love” – I just saw this beautiful film this morning and it made me cry into my coffee, available to watch on YouTube and well worth the six minutes. 
2. “Kitbull”
“Memorable”
“Sister”

LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM
2. “Brotherhood”
“Nefta Football Club”
1. “The Neighbors’ Window”
“Saria”
“A Sister”

ORIGINAL SCORE
2. 1917,” Thomas Newman – I thought it was a bit too prominent at times but it helps it to stand out I suppose.
1. “Joker,” Hildur Guðnadóttir
“Little Women,” Alexandre Desplat
“Marriage Story,” Randy Newman
“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” John Williams

VISUAL EFFECTS
1. “Avengers: Endgame”
“The Lion King”
“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”
“The Irishman”
2.1917
Read my thoughts on this category here

FILM EDITING
“The Irishman”
2. “Ford v Ferrari”
1. “Parasite”
“Joker”
Jojo Rabbit

MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
1.Bombshell” – for transforming Charlize Theron into Megyn Kelly alone this will win!
2. “Joker”
“Judy”
“Maleficent: Mistress of Evil”
1917

2020 Academy Award Nominees: An Array of Brief Reviews

Here are my brief thoughts on a few award-contending films that I’m probably not going to write a full review of, either because of time constraints or in some cases because my thoughts on them need a more recent repeat viewing, or in some cases there’s not much I have to say. I’ve also given my thoughts on their chances of winning their respective Oscars.

The Lion King (2019) – Visually, it’s a really impressive film, yet somehow it’s staggeringly unimpressive in almost every other way. I don’t have a long-held love of the original from my childhood, I only saw it for the first (and second) time a couple of years ago, but I felt like this added almost nothing to the story and in some ways detracted from it. The photorealistic characters look amazing, they’re of the highest visual artistry but crucially they lack the personality afforded by the more anthropomorphised hand-drawn versions. The voice casting was generally excellent, but no amount of vocal charisma is enough to make this anywhere near as special as it needed to be a worthwhile reimagining of Disney’s most acclaimed animated classic. $1.6bn however means that Disney will continue making these, I just hope they work harder on adapting their classics in a way that actually adds something to each, not like this almost shot-for-shot remake.

Nominated for: Visual Effects. Chances of winning: Oddly low despite being completely made by VFX artists. It should be in the Animated category and people know it, though Disney are determined to package it as ‘Live-Action’.

Avengers: Endgame – I’ve been invested in the franchise from the start, so I was primed to love this and I certainly did. I saw it twice in the cinema, the first viewing being the midnight premiere screening as I couldn’t possibly wait or risk the chances of spoilers. The atmosphere was superb, the film clearly lived up to expectations. Much was said about the long runtime but it really doesn’t drag, there’s so much going on and every opportunity is taken to have fun with the characters, retroactively add extra layers of story development and nicely incorporate some fan service when possible. It holds up on repeat viewing very well and though there are bits that aren’t perfect, it does tie together the strands of the ‘Infinity Saga’ in a way that feels satisfying and complete.

Nominated for: Visual Effects. Chances of winning: Not too bad, it might happen as a way of giving recognition to the accomplishments of the whole franchise and the effects are extensive and varied so showcase many skills.

Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker – I have really enjoyed going to see the Disney-era films at the cinema but this was a messy beast of a film. It felt overstuffed, muddled, and like it pushed aside all recent development and much logic in a thankless attempt to tick certain boxes. A minor let down for me, but I’m not a huge fan of the franchise with high levels of investment and expectations. I think it may even get worse on repeat viewing, especially if seen straight after episodes 7 & 8 as part of a marathon. The characters developed in this phase of the franchise are badly let down and it’s a waste of potential that was abundantly clear when I saw ‘The Force Awakens’. Hopefully, now they’ll leave the Skywalker saga completely alone and ensure that any future films or series don’t try to ‘fix’ the problems as it’ll just make things worse.

Nominated for: Visual Effects, Score, Sound Editing. Chances of winning: Low, they release a Star Wars film each year with similar effects, score, and sound, yet this being one of the weakest instalments there’s no impetus to award it.

Missing Link – Another example of beautiful filmmaking as is always the case from Laika, their animation always looks incredible, though I didn’t feel like the story or characters did very much to keep me completely interested. I liked the character of Susan and Zack Galifinakis voiced him brilliantly, especially as the film is more comedic than some of their others, though, beyond that, it’s not a tale that’s going to stick with me for very long. I have seen it twice on Netflix while very tired and kept dozing off, missing different bits both times, so I have seen it through but not in one perfect sitting, which may be more my fault than the film’s but still I feel like the adventurous aspects could be heightened a little more so it’s the exciting adventure it promises to be in the marketing.

Nominated for: Animated Feature. Chances of winning: Very low, while it won the Golden Globe it isn’t going to get the Oscar.

I Lost My Body / J’ai perdu mon corps – This French animation is possibly the lowest-profile of this year’s Academy Award nominees available to stream on Netflix. A severed hand makes its way across the city to get back to its owner while recounting key events in his life from his youth and recent past. This premise sounds somewhat macabre but in practice the film makes great efforts to be heartfelt and charming, effectively counteracting the weirdness of the unusual first-hand perspective. Hand in hand with that is the visual style, really beautiful hand-drawn animation that I found particularly expressive and endearing. No explanation is given for the hand’s agency. It’s not enchanted or extra-terrestrial, not superhuman nor supernatural, it’s just happening and facilitating the beautiful storytelling. I watched it in the English dubbed version for ease, which featured such voices as Dev Patel and Alia Shawkat and it kept me completely invested and entertained throughout.

Nominated for: Animated Feature. Chances of winning: None, there are much more beloved films in this race.