The Netflix Relief Fund

28-Jul-11 3:06 PM by
Filed under Humor; Comments Off on The Netflix Relief Fund

With Blockbuster in its dying throes, Netflix has exploited its dominance over the home video market with a recent raise in rates. Customers are outraged that they are now expected to pay for one month of streaming service nearly as much as they now pay for a single Starbucks latte.

I've offered an affordable and civic-minded alternative, but it is not American consumers' way to change their habits; they want to keep doing what they've always been doing, regardless of how viable it is. Fortunately, their cause now has some celebrity weight to it. Jason Alexander speaks on behalf of the Netflix Relief Fund:

If this plea doesn't put things in perspective, then please give generously.

(Hat tips to Kara Swisher and Ryan Faas)

The Public Library: Netflix 2.0

13-Jul-11 3:49 AM by
Filed under Potpourri; 2 comments.

My friends and I have diverse film experiences. They tend to see more movies than I do, whereas I see more unusual or esoteric ones. Where they've seen Dr. Strangelove, I watched Fail-Safe; for their Zombieland, there's my The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra. As a result, we often exchange recommendations, though even our acceptances take different forms: their "I'll add it to my Netflix queue" to my "I'll borrow it from the library."

I understand Netflix's appeal and the purpose it serves: it provides its customers with easy opportunities to expose themselves to a variety of movies and television shows they'd otherwise never see, and for a more affordable price than traditional purchases or rentals. Doing all this without leaving home is convenient, and the option of streaming it directly to your set-top box makes it unnecessary to anticipate your desires more than a few minutes in advance.

Library DVDs

All these DVDs can be yours, for the right price: free.

But for all this, and especially in light of its recent rate increase, Netflix still strikes me as an inferior choice next to the oft-overlooked public library. This venerable institution is sometimes seen as a destination more for children than adults, or for the decreasing number of bookworms in an increasingly multimedia world. But libraries and librarians are often on the cutting edge of technology, which for more than a decade has included such basic offerings as DVDs.

Anyone with a library card can borrow movies and TV shows for free. Much like Netflix, such requests can be made online: just search the library's online catalog, click a button, and the item will be set aside as soon as it becomes available. If the local branch doesn't carry a specific title, odds are their interlibrary loan (ILL) program can procure it at no additional charge. They'll even send an email when the item is ready to be picked up.

True, libraries don't provide streaming media — but my limited understanding of this aspect of Netflix gives me the same opinion of that service as I did of DivX a decade ago. Streaming media does not offer the wealth of bonus features and other additional content that add value to the physical disc. Viewers who still want those can order the disc from Netflix — but at that point, why not use the library?

Besides there being no monthly charge, no limits on borrowing, and no commitment to a persistent membership fee even when life is too busy for movies, there's a far more important reason to consider the library. The challenges of today's economy have afflicted civic services, and libraries are one that we cannot afford to lose. Libraries are a vital element of not just a democracy, but a thriving economy. In one study, every dollar invested in library services returned an increase of $9.08 in gross regional product and $12.66 in total state wages, making them one of the best investments our society can make.

Fortunately, your patronage is just as valuable as your money. At the same time funding is reaching all-time lows, library usage is at an all-time high. When it comes time to allocate next year's budget, one of the best arguments libraries can make is to demonstrate the need and desire for their services by pointing to current usage trends. Every DVD borrowed from libraries is another point in their favor, allowing them to continue to encourage a literate and employable citizenry, both in today's generation and tomorrow's.

No alternative — not Netflix, not Best Buy, and especially not piracy — offers cineasts as much bang for the buck as the public library. Where else can one promote literacy without reading a word or paying a dollar?

If that's not a bonus feature, I don't know what is.

RiffTrax Live's Holiday Shorts

14-Nov-09 11:48 AM by
Filed under Humor; Comments Off on RiffTrax Live's Holiday Shorts

In August, RiffTrax brought their Mystery Science Theater 3000-style humor to the big screen with RiffTrax Live, in which their mercilessly mocking of Plan 9 From Outer Space was streamed to theaters nationwide. Unlike their webcasts, which often buckled under unexpected popularity, the theatrical experience was nearly flawless — and apparently a financial success, given their rerun of the same show (obviously no longer live) two months later.

Now, RiffTrax, with guest star Weird Al Yankovic, is getting into the spirit of the season with a reprise that puts various holiday specials under the scrutiny. RiffTrax Live Christmas Shorts will perform the evening of Wednesday, December 16th, with a recorded repeat the following night. Judging from the trailer, the lineup appears it may be a mix of both new material and old, such as the public domain short "A Visit to Santa":

I ordered my tickets at $11 each, which is pretty standard for a moviegoing experience nowadays. RiffTrax offers a better value for the money than any other film, though, as the two-hour showing sends you home with a code good for the download of a RiffTones holiday song, two of the evening's shorts, an autographed photo of the riffers, and a holiday desktop wallpaper.

So get into the holiday spirit with this family-friendly evening of comedy!

RiffTrax Brings Plan 9 to Earth

31-Jul-09 3:22 PM by
Filed under Films; Comments Off on RiffTrax Brings Plan 9 to Earth

RiffTrax, the comedic commetaries provided by the geniuses behind Mystery Science Theater 3000, continues to expand its empire. In addition to the occasional live shows, they've lately taken to Internet streaming performances, though more often than not, the demand for these videos is great enough to crash their servers, resulting in refunds.

Undeterred, the team is combining the best of the online and live venues to offer a live performance streamed to 400 theaters around the country. On August 20th at 8 PM, Plan 9 From Outer Space will experience a nationwide crucifixion as Mike, Bill, and Kevin. Whether this is the same script used on their DVD edition of this movie is undetermined, but the fact that the downloadable (and more affordable) MP3 is "temporarily unavailable" is telling. However, "All event attendees will receive FREE exclusive digital goodies including a never before seen downloadable short, an autographed digital photo of the guys and a song by the RiffTones! A URL and code will be revealed on-screen at the end of the event." Maybe the digital version of the movie they just saw will be among the grab bag?

If you never saw This Island Earth, the only MST3K to have debuted in theaters, here's your chance to witness the best brains' glorious return to the silver screen!