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Author Topic: FilmStruck
Brad-
Nelson
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Brad Nelson
Post FilmStruck
on: January 27, 2018, 09:57
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The Apple Lightning Digital AV Adapter arrived in the mail yesterday. This will allow me to connect my iPhone directly to the TV with an HDMI cable in order to stream movies to the TV.

There are other methods to do this including Google’s Chromecast. The advantage of this latter option is that you can control the streaming content from your iPhone (or whatever brand of tablet or phone) and use it as a remote without the wires. I have not used a Chromecast so I have no idea how it actually works in practice. It’s a $35.00 device so it’s not a big investment to experiment with.

As it is, I have my iPhone connected to a 6 foot HDMI cable which is not within reach of my armchair, so it’s a little inconvenient when you want to pause and unpause a movie. But hopefully not being a Snowflake, the idea of getting out of my chair and off my ass is not necessarily a deal-breaker.

So with all the hardware I needed in hand, I signed up for a free 14-day trial of FilmStruck. This was accomplished by first downloading the free app onto my iPhone 6 Plus, launching the app, and then creating an account with nothing more than your email address and whatever password you want to establish. On my iPhone I’m already hooked into my credit card for payment so all it took was Apple’s “Touch ID” to make the first payment, although I assume nothing will actually be charged until after my 14-day trial expires. A quick look at my online banking account confirms this.

I went with the $6.99 basic option that includes the “FilmStruck” library of content. For $10.99/month you can get FilmStruck plus The Criterion Channel. Pre-pay for a year and you can bring the price of this premium combo to $8.25/month.

At first glance the FilmStruck library includes a fair, but not voluminous, amount of content. They way this works is that they are constantly shuffling in new stuff while older stuff expires. Many of the films are major classics, there are scattered minor classics, and then a whole lot of stuff I’ve never heard of.

But the point is that this is more “film buff” type of stock. For movie snobs. Or at least for those whose idea of entertainment is not the brainless junk being produced by Hollywood presently.

But you still get your share of junk, depending upon one’s taste, I guess. I watched the generally highly-rated “Black Narcissus” last night with Deborah Kerr. The location is exotic but the acting, direction, story, and even the cinematography are mediocre. I’ve never seen Deborah Kerr worse.

But this first movie was a test of the system, not of the content, per se. I watched a couple movies last night and each time the movie would pause two or three times in the first ten minutes. And I don’t mean that it would be a “rebuffering” pause. No, the movie simply paused and I had to get up, open the phone, and hit the play button and the movie would immediately start again. And after that first two or three times of doing this, the movies would play flawlessly from thereon out.

Perhaps once or twice (counting the two movies together) there was re-buffering, but nothing particularly unusual regarding any kind of streaming service. The picture quality was good. “Black Narcissus” even came with closed captions, but not all movies do. The second movie I watched last night, “Night and the City,” did not have closed captioning. I’ve never been much of a Richard Widmark fan but I came to appreciate him more as I started watching some of the older black-and-whites on AMC and TNT on cable.

“Night and the City” is one of those early crime/film-noirs that he is good at. Widmark plays an overzealous promoter and schemer who is too smooth for his own good. This is a well-paced film that is never boring. I highly recommend it to movie buffs.

And this is precisely why I’m demoing this streaming service. You can find the good stuff sometimes only by hunting and pecking.

Assuming that I have no hardware streaming issues (my iPhone’s wireless hardware is a vast improvement over my old Android tablet), I’ll likely hang on for at least a month or two and see what there is to see. Next up is likely 1955’s “Rififi,” a heist film that I don’t think I’ve seen. I’m a fan of heist films.

From what I’ve gathered from reading reviews of the FilmStruck services, even though this is a joint venture between Turner Classic Movies and the Criterion Collection, you won’t find any of the Turner Classic Movies content on FilmStruck. That’s too bad.

As far as working with the FilmStruck app on my iPhone (or on my iMac in a web browser), the software is surely improved from what it was a year ago. Several reviewers noted how rough it was when the service started in 2016. I think it all looks good and browsing categories is easy enough. And you can save favorites to your “Watchlist” as you’re browsing through the library, which is nice.

The bottom line is that it’s only $6.99 for a lot of good (if not always great) content that you can’t find anywhere else (except perhaps on a physical DVD or Blu Ray). And the service does seem to work reliably enough. But I’m early in the testing process. And FilmStruck’s generous 14-day free trial period is more than enough time to do so.

Brad-
Nelson
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Brad Nelson
Post Re: FilmStruck
on: January 27, 2018, 20:38
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I watched 1955’s French heist film, Rifii, on FilmStruck today. It’s a pretty good film through the actual heist and a little bit beyond. But then it loses any semblance of style, creativity, and originality. A total bust. I can’t recommend this one. But if you’re into heist films, you’ll want to see this one.

I also tried to watch 1959’s “The Law” with Gina Lollobrigida. God help me, I couldn’t make it through 20 minutes. Pretty boring stuff.

One movie I have medium-hopes for (as opposed to high hopes) is 1955’s “The Ladykillers.” I don’t know that I’ve seen that one. Right now I’m watching 1979’s “The Elephant God.” A valuable elephant deity Hindu thingie is stolen and the Holmes-like Bengali, Feluda, is on the case. I’m about 15 minutes into it and it shows promise.

As for the service itself, a major flaw is the inability of the software to reliable pick a movie back up where you left it. Only if you very carefully pause the movie and then hit the “back” button in the app do you stand any chance of being able to switch out of a movie and find your way back in at the same point. But if you interrupt the streaming movie in any other way (such as switching to another app), you’re toast.

It took Netflix a while to make this feature reliable. And now it is 95% of the time. And it’s really a vital and central feature in regards to streaming anything. And if I don’t re-up this service after the 14 day trial, I’m going to take the time to write them a helpful email. If they want to have any chance in the streaming marketplace, they have to get this right. Right now it is completely wrong and broken.

But as long as you stay in the app and only pause a movie, it seems you can start and stop it fairly reliably. Even so, sometimes when my phone’s screen goes off (that is, it “locks”) and I open it up again, it won’t be the FilmStruck app in the foreground so I’m toast. The movie stops playing. You lose your place. It's a mess.

For $6.99 and a lot of good movies to watch, you can put up with a few annoyances. But this is just about at the threshold.

Brad-
Nelson
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Brad Nelson
Post Re: FilmStruck
on: January 28, 2018, 10:15
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I finished watching the Bengali film, “The Elephant God,” last night. If you like Agatha Christie’s stuff, this is certainly an homage to that, if a low-budget one. Several of her characters are mentioned. One of the main characters is a crime novelist. The guy who plays sort of an unexpressive (read: dull) Sherlock Holmes private detective is Feluda. He’s very good at looking like he’s concentrating hard. His super-hero power is his brain. I’m so glad that David Suchet had a much better way of evoking the fact that the had an abundant array of little gray sells. This Feluda guy is sort of a stiff but he’s still fun to watch.

A lot of this is funny because it’s supposed to be funny. A lot of it is funny but isn't intended to be. This film is of the style of low-budget amateurs who, given camera equipment, must point it at something. At one point Feluda’s writer friend is forced by the bad guy to be the target for the old knife-throwing trick. Put a guy up against a wooden target and try to come as close as you can without hitting him.

Why was this in there? Who knows, it related to the story not at all, nor did the body builder that Feluda and his two cohorts where sharing their room with. In some sense it was entertaining seeing what fascinates Bengalis.

But the settings were somewhat exotic, and the story held together about as well (or as bad) as most mysteries of the type do. At 112 minutes it was too long by about 30 minutes. This is sort of like a Charlie Chan episode set in India. It’s entertaining, in part, because it is so low-budget and amateurish.

I might move onto 1955’s “The Ladykillers” today. I’ll either love it or turn it off after 20 minutes. These screwball comedies can be so hit or miss. But with a cast that includes Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers, it’s worth a try.

Timothy-
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Post Re: FilmStruck
on: January 28, 2018, 11:04
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I just checked it out on wikipedia, and it sounds promising. It was Peter Sellers's film debut, and included his future costar Herbert Lom. It gets 100% favorable reviews on Rotten Tomatoes.

Kung Fu Zu
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Kung Fu Zu
Post Re: FilmStruck
on: January 28, 2018, 11:35
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I don't believe I have seen the complete film, but I thought the ending was not back. The problem with such films is they try to make a film equivalent to a Rube Goldberg device, i.e. a useless contraption is made so everything works no matter how unlikely and superfluous it is, so as to make a story.

Brad-
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Brad Nelson
Post Re: FilmStruck
on: January 28, 2018, 13:29
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It was Peter Sellers's film debut

Well, that’s an interesting thing. And I can certainly tell you that this is not a Peter Sellers film. His is more of a bit part. The central figures here are Alec Guinness and Katie Johnson (as the Old Lady Mrs. Wilberforce).

By the way, this is the second movie in the past two days where I caught a young Herbert Lom (Chief Insp. Dreyfus). Interesting and fascinating to seem him teamed up with Peter Sellers in “The Ladykillers.” The other film I saw recently with him in it was “Night and the City.” I didn’t recognize him for a moment in that one. Or I didn’t suppose this straight-man figure could possibly be him. But the voice was unmistakable. Kristo was indeed Chief Inspector Dreyfus.

So many of these English comedies are like anything with Dom DeLuise in it. They can break down into just the silliest of tripe. “Blazing Saddles” notwithstanding, Mel Brooks without another strong guiding hand degenerates to this kind of mindless shtick. “Young Frankenstein,” which I think is his greatest work, could not have been that great work without Gene Wilder — another comedian whose inner compunction to laugh at anything marred many of his films from being good.

So I went into “The Ladykillers” with the same attitude. And there were times when the plotting became a little ridiculous. But mostly this held together as a relatively smart and snappy black comedy. This movie also knew how to end well.

Alec Guinness, with the benefit of some false teeth and liberal use of makeup, is almost not recognizable as himself. But that voice would give him away anywhere. He’s good throughout and nicely plays the leader of this gang of thieves as the superficially-polite proper gentleman who can barely cover up his malevolent intent. Peter Sellers plays the fancy-boy with the hilarious pretty-boy hair. He doesn’t have many lines in this but he does look funny.

I was actually surprised that I didn’t have to turn this off after 20 minutes. The middle part — just after the heist when the plot turns into a comedy-of-cliched-errors — is the weakest part. But it finishes quite well.

Timothy-
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Post Re: FilmStruck
on: January 28, 2018, 14:42
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I first encountered DeLuise in a couple of comic sketches I saw after we came back from Greece. One was a pretend magic act with a lot of obvious fakery. The other involved a diplomat from some foreign country being interviewed about his country. He's very affable until he gets a phone call indicating their H-bomb test just went off well. After that he gives the interviewers a Bronx cheer.

Brooks did several movies I like. Blazing Saddles and The Producers would certainly rank high, and High Anxiety and Spaceballs have plenty of good moments. I think he was also involved with the TV series When Things Were Rotten, a Robin Hood parody that unfortunately didn't last long. Of course, the first 2 also had Gene Wilder, who has a history of partnering with other comedians (including Zero Mostel, Richard Pryor, Marty Feldman, and Gilda Radner).

Brad-
Nelson
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Brad Nelson
Post Re: FilmStruck
on: January 28, 2018, 17:57
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I tried watching another film by Satyajit Ray: “Pather Panchali.” It must be a Bengali thing. It didn’t go anywhere. Shut if off after about 30 minutes.

I then moved onto a prison film that I had never seen before: “Brute Force” from 1947 starring Burt Lancaster. They try to give it some depth by having a group of inmates flashback to how they got to prison but the stories aren’t compelling, the acting superficial. There’s too much talk and not enough action in this one. A relative snoozer.

I wouldn’t even add that this is a must-see for Burt Lancaster fans (as I am). This really is a prison film with a heartbeat of about 50. Lancaster’s outrage seems lukewarm. But as sort of a b-film with some memorable stars, it’s marginally watchable. I did get all the way through. One reviewer describes it as “Too talky and too bleak.” That’s an apt description.

Right now I’m about two-thirds way through a French film, “The Man in the Raincoat,” from 1957. It’s an unusual mix of noir and comedy. It stars a name and face you may know: Fernandel. I can already tell you this movie is too long even at 106 minutes. But the plot keeps ticking along. Fernandel’s shtick reminds me of Mr. Kung’s warning about Rube Goldberg plots (not to mention gratuitous and not-always-funny slapstick).

Fernandel plays an oboist in a theatre orchestra whose wife is visiting a sick sister. She’ll be a way for ten days. Fernandel’s orchestra friend talks him into seeing “Eva,” a young dancer in the troupe rehearsing a new play (which Fernandel rarely gets to see because he’s in the orchestra pit). Although reluctant to cheat on his wife, he works up the courage and goes to see a quite receptive Eva. Eva goes to her bathroom to “get more comfortable” while Fernandel is waiting in the sitting room and that’s the last time we see Eva alive. The plot suitably thickens from there.

Regarding Brooks, yes, he did many zany and funny films. And comedy is often a matter of taste. But many a film by various comedians look as if they were high on pot while filming it so no matter what they did, everyone thought it was hilariously funny. But to a sober (even willing) viewer, it just comes off as indulgent with a tin ear.

Brad-
Nelson
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Brad Nelson
Post Re: FilmStruck
on: January 28, 2018, 20:12
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I finished the French “The Man in the Raincoat” and it’s got somewhat of a “Mad mad mad world” or “What’s Up, Doc?” flavor to it. Perhaps some of the slapstick excesses can be forgiven. Presumably, even in France in 1957, without the use of excessive and explicit nudity and violence as a tool, they had to work to show the audience something different.

It’s odd seeing John McGiver in this, especially with a dubbed-in French voice. His is such a distinctive voice. They don’t get the full benefit of him in this. Perhaps he’s best known as JR. Castle on “The Patty Duke Show.” But he’s been in a lot of things.

Timothy-
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Post Re: FilmStruck
on: January 28, 2018, 21:10
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I don't remember McGiver on The Patty Duke Show, but I do recall him from Man's Favorite Sport, in which he played the boss at Abercrombie & Fitch. (I remember the promo for it, in which someone asked what is man's favorite sport, and showed different young, attractive women playing each sport. I was a pre-teen, but had no trouble getting the point. Come to think of it, I would recommend it for the movie listings. With Rock Hudson and Paula Prentiss, it has a good start and delivers very nicely even without Hudson' usual comedic partner, Doris Day.)

I also remember him as a businessman in a Jerry Lewis movie, who got his job through his wife (as was normal in that dynasty), which discouraged Lewis from marrying his daughter -- though things worked out in the end.

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