Netflix Roulette Experiment

Last night, I let Netflix Roulette pick what movies I was going to watch.

The program virtually digs through all the streaming options on the site notorious for not having quality streaming options and comes up with a link that only the bold should click on. It’s not really all that crazy. We let people suggest movies all the time. Friends, critics we consistently agree and disagree with, memes. I thought, “how bad could it really be?”

The answer isn’t 0 stars, but it’s pretty close.

Admittedly, that little red “Spin” button held a mystical kind of power to it when I committed to letting it decide my cinematic destiny.

Probably because there’s something different about opening up a massive library and throwing a digital dart into the wind. Netflix Roulette is like a box of chocolates, and to be honest, I wasn’t exactly sure what my goal was beyond exploring Netflix in a different way (and maybe seeing it for what it really is).

Half-baked as it all was, I pressed the red button and dove beyond the movie veil of ignorance. Here’s what I saw.

I figured it would be best to start with the widest parameters possible, but to protect myself I played by House Rules (a 30-minute veto option if something was truly heinous). Turns out, I needed it.

Spin #1:  Ripe (1996)

“Orphaned at 15, twin sisters hit the road on a journey of personal discovery and wind up living with a handyman on an Army base. There, they experience confusion, excitement and jealousy in the male-dominated setting as their sexuality emerges.”

Parameters: All genres, only movies, all star ratings

The Verdict: Talk about random. Super random. I didn’t know what to expect with all this, but having this movie pop up made me realize that I had no idea what I was getting into with this experiment. Freedom’s just another word for “What the hell did I just watch?”.

If the plot synopsis didn’t put you on edge enough, be confident in your heart that you know how bad it is already. It’s Southern Fried trying-too-hard, opening with bugs having sex and a little girl trying to kill them for it. When we truly meet our two little shits/heroes, it’s through a flatly delivered voice over that forces out the curse words like it invented them. There’s nothing wrong with motherfuckers, but this movie is angling for aggressive street cred the same way that idiot from 8 Mile who shoots himself in the junk is.

It’s also weirdly exploitative. A sexual awakening for 14-year-old characters played by 17-year-old actresses. In more overwrought symbolism, the jealous sister takes a sledge hammer to two rats having sex (after the bug-humping of the opening). In the hands of a nuanced and trenchant writer, it would be interesting drama, but it’s amateur hour, the thinnest of stories looking for excuses to go Porky’s via a shortcut through Cinemax. As if the lurid title weren’t a big tip off.

For added weirdness, Monica Keena from Dawson’s Creek is in it. Careers start in weird places.

This was the first feature from writer/director Mo Ogrodnik, who also has a writing credit on the sugar sweet, Dakota Fanning-starring rom-com Uptown Girls. And not much else.

Ripe got the veto after a scene where a guy seduces a woman with a vacuum cleaner. It’s both more innocent and more perverted than you’re thinking right now, and it’s proof that Netflix Roulette is not a toy.

dashes

Spin #2: Not Fade Away (2012)

“Inspired by the music of Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, three 1960s high-schoolers form a rock band in the New Jersey suburbs. James Gandolfini co-stars in this debut feature from Sopranos creator David Chase.”

Parameters: All genres, only movies, only star ratings 3-5

The Verdict: I figured setting the bottom rate at average wouldn’t be so bad. It would still leave the window open for the bad to sneak in, and I’d already paid my dues (on the very first try!) when it came to mediocre crap.

Unfortunately, this nostalgia trip was a different kind of trying-too-hard. If Ripe was the b-movie version of sweaty drama, this is the a-movie type — it looks great, has name actors, and all, but every single aspect was irritatingly on the nose. Like Chase underwent the Ludovico Treatment before calling action.

Oddly enough, it also opens with kids cursing. I get that it’s great shorthand for peacocking youth, but it rings clunky almost every time (especially when the kids don’t continue to talk that way). The verbal pissing contest here is awkward, and it might work if all the other dialogue weren’t unnecessarily banal moments happening during an iconic slice of history. I’m surprised Chase didn’t flash a title card with the date up after every scene. The JFK assassination, an episode of The Twilight Zone, The Beatles invasion. Every sign post is a major one.

Overplayed design has always been a pet peeve of mine for period pieces. It’s simultaneously insulting to the audience and shows a kind of limited knowledge of the era you’re trying to praise — as if the only things going on at the time were the things that became super famous, as if the only cars on the road were from that year. In trying to craft a world of the recent past, some filmmakers over-create it, making it into a version of Pleasantville shaped more by memory than a sense of realism, even when the tone of the movie doesn’t call for that. It’s pastiche that undercuts anything else you’re trying to do, and that wasn’t all that strong (or original) here to begin with.

I vetoed this after a bland 30 minutes, too.

Yes, cancelling out this after cancelling out Ripe felt wonky. But bad is bad, whether it’s super safe sameness or eyebrow-raisingly misguided chance-taking.

Spin #3: .hack//Quantum OVA

“Tobias, Mary and Sakuya are way into the ‘The World.’ Together, they form an inseparable group, but when the trio becomes lost in this virtual labyrinth, a chance encounter with the mysterious entity known as Hermit will change their lives forever.”

Parameters: All genres, only TV, all star ratings

Up to this point, the experiment has been a bust. Not an unexpected bust, but a bust nonetheless. After a 2-veto hour, pure chance was apparently screaming loudly about Netflix’s cinematic deficiencies. Maybe TV would be better.

It was. I feel slightly silly having never heard of this title, but it was a fun, harmless story with a strong central concept: that an online gaming world could be more consequential than real life. Of course that idea is tested (in mild ways) through three school girls who each think about their collegiate futures in different ways. One is serious, another has skill enough to cram the night before a test, and the third is hopelessly wacky.

Quantum hits the sweet spot for anime. Strong animation, excellent action sequences (that are as fantastical as an MMORPG can dish out) and a kind sensibility toward coloring a strong friendship. There isn’t a mean bone in its body, but it still manages three big conflicts in the first episode.

Definitely planning on watching episode two and seeing where it’s headed, and not because my will has been weakened by the previous two spins.

Spin #4: Nothing

Parameters: All genres, only movies, only 5 star ratings

“We could not find anything with the filters you provided, try switching them up!”

This does not bode well. Still, perfection from the crowd is tough to come by. Disappointing, if not understandable. Just to be sure…

Spin #5: Nothing

Parameters: All genres, only movies, only 1 star ratings

“We could not find anything with the filters you provided, try switching them up!”

Phew. Nice to know the bell curve is alive and well.

Spin #6: The Avengers (2012)

“An all-star lineup of superheroes — including Iron Man, the Incredible Hulk and Captain America — team up to save the world from certain doom. Working under the authority of S.H.I.E.L.D., can our heroes keep the planet at peace?”

Parameters: All genres, only movies, only 4.5 star ratings and higher

The Verdict: In case you were wondering, The Avengers is the only live-action movie on Netflix streaming with a rating of 4.5 stars or more.

It’s got 4.5. Pokemon the Movie: Black: Victini and Reshiram also has a 4.5, and Pokemon the Movie: White: Victini and Zekrom has a 4.6. If Netflix Roulette is to be believed, these are the only three movies that crack 4.5 at all.

If you’re not a Pokemon fan, you better love Marvel.

Obviously it was fun to see Joss Whedon’s ego juggling again. It holds up. You know, in the 2 years since it came out.

Maybe I was being cynical, toasted by the earlier outings, but having streaming access to something as massively entertaining (and popularly entertaining) as The Avengers made the Netflix situation seem somehow worse. I was glad to see it and hungry for shawarma, but there was something obvious about it. Like it was only there because it was also everywhere else. For Netflix, it’s a kind of limp taunt that they could get insanely popular movies, but they haven’t quite gotten around to it.

Fortunately, Ripe is available whenever you want it.

On the bright side, sliding through 6 spins of Netflix Roulette allowed me to figure out my next step. Maybe what should have been my first step. Sticking to 4 star ratings and higher. Hopefully there are more than three movies on that list.


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