Sunday, November 28, 2010

Netflix plan that works for you

Last week, Netflix made the news cycle with a new plan. As Stan pointed out, most of the reporters didn't know what they were writing about.

Let's start with the basics. Netflix' new plan is that for $7.99 you can have unlimited streaming a month and only unlimited streaming. Despite the press stating that a dollar more would allow you one DVD at a time, Netflix will be charging $9.99 -- two dollars more -- for those who wish to have a DVD sent them. (One DVD at a time.) Possibly in response to Stan's criticism of the new plan, they're insisting that you will "Get a broader selection of TV episodes & movies on DVD" by going for the $9.99 plan.


Actually, they're lying to you again.

Upfront, we all use Netflix. We're paying customers. We don't intend to drop it. But we also don't intend to lie the way the press did last week -- so much so, you got the feeling that the reporters covering it felt their job was to pump up Netflix's stock price.

Will you get a broader selection of movies on DVD with the $9.99 plan? Yes, you will. But they include that "TV episodes" as well and there's the problem.

What TV episodes will you be watching?

We ask because TV episodes -- with few exceptions (a Best of Friends, for example) -- are done by season and few seasons can fit on one disc (the first season of Kate & Allie is on one disc). This became an issue early on when Ty, after just joining two years ago, decided he'd go through all the seasons of the British spy show The Avengers. He put season two (The Avengers '62) in his cue (it's the first season Netflix had) and waited for it to arrive. It was his one choice and he was eager to watch the season. And soon enough, the postal service delivered his . . . disc.

Season two is four discs.

Though season two is one item, they count it as four. You have to watch one disc, return it, wait for them to send you the next one (we generally receive our next discs -- all over the country -- two days after we've sent in one).

The $9.99 option -- one disc at a time -- will not work with TV episodes. When Ty encountered that problem, we switched to 3 at a time. That will still not mean you get all the discs in a set season but it is the number that we all ended up going with because it does allow for a movie marathon day.

The new prices -- for new members right now and for existing members after January 1st -- will be as follows: 1 DVD at a time will cost you $9.99, 2 DVDs at a time will cost you $14.99, 3 DVDs at a time will cost you $19.99 and 4 DVDs at a time will cost you $27.99. Yes, that is a huge increase from 3. With all four plans, you get unlimited streaming and you can check out as many DVDs a month as you want.

We do not recommend the $7.99 a month plan and will go into that in a moment. First, we need to note there is one other plan. For $4.99 you can stream 2 hours of Netflix a month on your computer -- not on Wi or any other device you might hook up to the TV. It's not clear whether that's two hours of programming or two hours. That is an issue in some parts of the country because there are buffering nightmares in some spots -- meaning your stream keeps dropping off and you have to wait and wait for rebuffering. For $4.99 you also can have 2 DVDs a month -- one a time. And no more than 2 for the whole month. You do not get Starz Play (which you can stream online as a Netflix member).

When Stan reported on the new plans Monday, he outlined how little was offered for streaming-only option as he explained that it wasn't worth it, if you were a movie or TV lover, to only have the $7.99 option. He covered Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Kurt Russell, Alfred Hitchcock and others. In e-mails, he was asked about others specific performers and directors as well as genres.

One genre was foreign films. There's no simple answer for that. Do you mean French foreign films, for example? There are a few. Do you mean China? If you mean, by "foreign films," all films not made in the US, Canada or England (British films are rarely categorized as foreign films by Netflix), then, yes, there are many because there are many, many countries that make foreign films.

With streaming, you don't get many new (last five years) films. So to give those asking about foreign films a gauge to judge by, we looked at some specific performers and directors.

French actress Brigitte Bardot remains an international star; however, she hasn't acted in films in decades. So all of her films would fall under 'classic' or 'old.' It's Tuesday, you've got a cold, make yourself some soup and say, "I'll stream some Bardot." Hope you took something that will knock you out quickly because the only true Bardot film is Viva Maria! in which she and Jeanne Moreau are directed by Louis Malle. There's a film with Bardot in a small part you can stream, 1955's Doctor At Sea. But Brigette doesn't become a star until 1956 with And God Created Woman. While you can receive many discs of many movies Bardot made after that, you can only stream one of them.

And God Created Woman
raises an issue we'll deal with right now. Those checking our assertions should do so by titles and by actors and by directors before informing us we're wrong. Meaning? Netflix has many, many mistakes. Roger Vadim, for example, is the director of And God Created Woman with Bardot. You cannot stream it. But can you stream other films he directed? Yes, two. One is 1960's Blood and Roses and don't e-mail us and tell us we're wrong about two, that you can only stream one Vadim film. Vadim directed Bardot's And God Created Woman. He also directed the 1987 remake starring Rebecca De Mornay -- which you can stream -- but despite getting his name right in the description, in the credits, Netflix lists him as "Richard Vadim." Click on "Richard Vadim" and you'll find "Richard" only directed this one film.

Continiuing the Bardot - Vadim connection (the two were married), we next examined the internationally acclaimed actress Catherine Deneuve. Netflix offers 38 films and mini-series with Denueve as star (there's also a TV series and a film she had a small part in before she was established, we're not counting those). We strongly recommend you catch her in the Dangerous Liasons mini-series opposite Nastassja Kinski and Rupert Everett. You can't stream it, but it's from 2003. Other work she did that decade is streamable: 2009's The Girl on the Train, 2008's A Christmas Tale, 2004's A Talking Picture and 2001's I'm Going Home. After that you have 1983's The Hunger and 1969's La Chamade. Six films out of 38. And the ones available aren't considered her classics. No Indochine, Repulsion, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Belle de Jour, The Last Metro, Dancer in the Dark, 8 Women, etc.

If your subscription allows you to have at least one DVD, you can check out any of the 18 Luis Bunuel directed films they offer but if you're streaming only better get used to watching 1929's Un Chien Andalou over and over. Foreign films in the last decades have often meant director Pedro Almodovar whose unqiue vision is created with reviving the film industry in Spain. Netflix offers 11 of his films on disc (Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! is not one of them). Of those eleven, only 2009's Broken Embraces is offered for streaming. So Almodovar fans, or those wanting to enjoy actor Antonio Banderas early work with him, are out of luck.

Like Banderas, Yun-Fat Chow (also billed as Chow Yun-Fat) is an international star. And Netflix offers, on DVD, 29 of his films -- though not classics such as A Better Tomorrow, A Better Tomorrow II, City War, The Killer, etc. Of those 29, how many can you stream? Two. And one is the American film Anna and the King. While he and Jodie Foster work very well together, Yun-Fat Chow is known for his action films and, of those, only 1992's Full Contact is available for streaming. Another talent to emerge from Hong Kong cinema is director All Kar Wai and here Netflix does a better job. It offers ten films on DVD and five of those are streamable -- unfortunately his classic Chungking Express is not one.

From Hong Kong to China, actor Jet Li has 36 of his films available on DVD from Netflix (about half his output) but only one of those, 2007's The Warlords, is a foreign film. Also included is his US debut Lethal Weapon IV and a documentary of filming The Expendables. In other words, if you're looking to discover how Jet Li first set the world afire, you'll need to fall back to DVDs because Netflix streaming won't help you.

Netflix offers 17 films directed by Italy's Federico Fellini on DVD and, of those 18, you can actually stream seven -- and the seven include classics like La Dolce Vita, La Strada, 8 1/2, and Satyricon. You can't talk Italian cinema without noting Sophia Loren, the country's superstar. Her American and British films are better represented in streaming than are her Italian ones. Of the ten Sophia Loren films available for streaming, only one is a product of Italian cinema, her Best Actress Academy Award winning Two Women.

Russia cinema produced the master director Andrei Tarkovsky who directed seven feature films. Tarkovsky is the rare foreign artist that Netflix does well. Not only do they offer all seven on disc, they also offer a documentary he directed as well as one of his student films. However, only one film is available for streaming, 1972's Solaris.

In fairness to Netflix, what is streamable changes from time to time. For example, three months ago, you could have streamed Goldie Hawn's Best Supporting Actress Academy Award winning role in Cactus Flower. But it's no longer streamable. There are a small number of films that are rotated and, depending upon the time of the year, you can catch them. Also true is whatever Starz is airing on its basic channel is available for streaming during the months it's on Starz' schedule.

Now it's true that not being able to have everything will force you to experiment and that this is how wonderful and minor gems are often found. A brief list of films that one or many of enjoyed that way would include:
Race to Witch Mountain THX 1138 The Black Dahlia Aeon Flux Obsession La Femme Nikita Ball Of Fire Unfaithfully Yours Stage Fright The Last Of Sheila Twentieth Century Rachel Getting Married The Sugarland Express Manchu Eagle Murder Caper Mystery Lord Love A Duck Walk, Don't Run

The list above is not complete and we tried to offer a variety in the choices. We've always found something to stream when attempting to. But it's usually the case that, while looking for something to stream, we find several movies we add to our queue because they're only available on DVD. (Also, note, the films above were available when we watched them. We are not saying they will always be streamable.)

We think Netflix is a great plus for movie lovers. But we would strongly urge against anyone getting the $7.99 offer (streaming only). If you're on a tight budget, go with the $9.99 offer and you can see any film available on disc only as well as stream. If you can afford it, we'd recommend the $19.99 plan which allows you to have three discs out at a time (and unlimited streaming). There are also plans for Blu-Ray but the prices differ and would complicate the simple overview we're attempting to provide. For more information, you can visit Netflix.
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