Online streaming: a step backwards?

Not long for this world?

Not long for this world?

I’ve finally given up on online streaming subscriptions. After many frustrations, this morning I cancelled my Amazon Prime Instant Video subscription with an exasperated sigh. I will explain why.

I was an early adopter and enthusiastic user of Lovefilm. I remember the dreadful old days, when trips to the local Blockbuster would usually end in disappointment because all of the decent films had been rented or the film I wanted to see was unavailable on their pitiful back catalogue. If I did find something to watch, I’d have to hand over the best part of a fiver before dashing back to the store within a day or two in order to avoid a late fee. The thought of the £10 fine I received once still rankles to this very day. So the emergence of a postal DVD rental service with no late fees and an enormous back catalogue was a most welcome development.

But things have changed. Not long back, Lovefilm started stripping back their subscription model – first they stopped renting games, and then they abolished the pay as you go model, forcing everyone onto fixed monthly subscriptions. Not ideal from my point of view, as the number of films I watch per month tends to vary hugely, but it was still generally a good deal.  But then at some point Amazon took over Lovefilm, and chaos ensued.

All Lovefilm subscribers have been forced to merge their subscriptions with their Amazon account, and the Lovefilm site has been discontinued. The postal service has been renamed ‘Lovefilm by Post’ and the streaming service, ‘Lovefilm Instant’, has been given the dreadful moniker ‘Amazon Prime Instant Video’ and been separated entirely from the postal service.

I’d signed up for Lovefilm Instant a few months before its migration to Amazon because it was advertised as being free with one of the monthly postal subscription packages. However, it’s clear that whereas once the streaming service was an extra on top of the postal service, the opposite is now true. In fact, the postal service has been so badly implemented into the Amazon website that I’m certain it will be abandoned entirely by Amazon very soon. I tried to change my postal subscription earlier so I could receive two discs at a time instead of one, and it appears that all options to adjust postal subscriptions have been removed – the only option was to cancel my account. If that’s not a sign that Lovefilm by Post is not long for this world, then I don’t know what is.

But I’m not ready to abandon my postal DVDs just yet, because streaming just isn’t fit for purpose in its current form. For a start, internet connections just aren’t reliable enough – I have BT Infinity but I still experience buffering and picture quality reductions when viewing at peak times, which annoys the hell out of me. Then there’s the paltry selection of titles: most of the films on my Lovefilm rental list are unavailable for streaming, and it’s a similar story over on Netflix. A couple of months ago, Ian and I took out a trial subscription to Netflix in an attempt to watch a few of the films that had been recommended to us: out of the 50+ films on the 101 Films list of recommendations, only 5 were available to stream.

Then there’s the problem of films being taken off the streaming list. I added The Battle of Algiers to my ‘watch list’ a couple of months ago, but when I wanted to watch it over the weekend I found that it had been removed for some reason. And not long before that, the same thing happened with Peeping Tom. It’s like putting a DVD on your shelf and then finding it’s been taken without warning when you go to watch it.

And with Amazon Prime Instant Video in particular, the user interface is utterly dreadful. For some bizarre reason they’ve mixed two subscription models together: Amazon Prime and Amazon Instant Video, as well as paying for individual films. After weeks of using it I still can’t get my head around how it works – in essence it just means that when I click on a film I want to watch sometimes I get told it’s not covered by my subscription and I have to pay extra for it, which is as annoying as it sounds. Visually too, both Netflix and Amazon push a handful of titles and make it very difficult to go hunting for anything that’s not being promoted.

No, I don't want to watch Jack & Jill.

No, I don’t want to watch Jack & Jill.

All of these problems are likely to be fixed with time. But right now, streaming is the poor cousin to postal DVD rental services in terms of reliability, picture quality and, most importantly, choice. Yet as consumers, we’re being forced onto streaming whether we like it or not: the only DVD rental services still going are Lovefilm and Cinema Paradiso, and as I said earlier, signs are that the Lovefilm by Post service might be not long for this world.

Streaming services are useful, and they’re a great way to find something to watch when you’re at a loose end. But until we have 100% reliable connections, consistent HD picture quality and a decent range of choice, they’ll be an optional extra. And after my trials and tribulations with Amazon’s lacklustre streaming service (and Netflix, for that matter), they are an optional extra I’d rather do without.

The Cinema Experience: A 101 Films Special

cinemaWe love going to the cinema here at 101 Films, but we don’t love everything about the cinema. Overpriced food, tiny screens, stupid ticket prices, surcharges for watching films in 3D when there’s no 2D version available, people talking during the film, people checking their mobile phones… all of these things were sent to try us.

It’s not like everything was rosy in the old days either. At least now in the era of pre-booked seats there’s no chance of queuing outside the cinema in the rain, only to reach the doors and be told the screen’s full. And Ian has a tale about a certain vermin-infested old movie house that will make your toes curl.

So join us in a one-off 101 Films Special in which we moan about the awfulness of going to the cinema, as well as celebrate its special magic. Although we mostly moan, to be honest.

Speaking of which, I realised I actually got my facts slightly wrong in the podcast – the cinema in Watford is no longer a Warner Village, it’s a Vue, and the 3D film tickets aren’t £14, they’re £12.30 (still expensive though). Interestingly, when I checked on their website I noticed they do “over 18s screenings” of certain movies for a surcharge of £1.05. The site announces: “For films without distraction, this is your choice. No ringtones, chatting or flying popcorn.”

Surely there shouldn’t be “ringtones, chatting or flying popcorn” in ANY screenings – aren’t ushers supposed to stop that kind of thing? But of course they’ve done away with ushers now, essentially giving up on trying to regulate the behaviour of people in the cinema entirely. Instead you now have to pay extra to watch a film without being pelted with popcorn. Tch.

Anyway, without further ado, let us present our feature presentation:

Click here to download and listen on your MP3 player of choice:

101 Films Special 09 – The Cinema Experience

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We’d love to hear your own film recommendations – please get in touch at 101filmsyoushouldhaveseen@gmail.com or leave a comment on the blog. Feel free to say nice things about us on iTunes!

Run Lola Run provokes wave of nineties nostalgia

Run Lola Run posterAfter a two-week break we’re back, back, BACK with a look at the classic German flick Run Lola Run (thanks to @msrainbowfudge for the recommendation). Our apologies for the lateness of this podcast – regular readers will know that we usually post every Thursday, but Ian ‘forgot’ to put up the podcast last night. Yet another black mark against his hitherto good name – rest assured he will be given an interview without coffee by his superior at the earliest opportunity.

Run Lola Run is the second German film to grace our list of 101 after Downfall, but it couldn’t be more different in style. Although now I’m imagining Downfall done in the style of Run Lola Run, and it seems strangely appealing – imagine Hitler’s last days played out in three separate scenarios, each with subtle differences that enormously affect the outcome. Maybe in one version he doesn’t shoot the dog, which is then subsequently adopted by Churchill? You know, this might just work…

Anyway, as you’ve probably gathered, Run Lola Run occupies that tiniest of film niches dedicated to “What if?…” scenarios – the film documents the same story in three different alternative realities in which a very tiny change has enormous consequences for the outcome. It’s a clever film and it must have been a real challenge to make – getting the continuity right must have been an enormous headache for all concerned. The result is a fast-paced and frenetic bit of film-making (the average shot length is 2.7 seconds) that perhaps doesn’t quite break the boundaries of greatness, but is nevertheless a thoroughly entertaining and worthwhile watch. Also, it made us incredibly nostalgic for the nineties – when are checked trousers going to come back into fashion?

Last but not least, our Secret Sponsor for this week is @EarsARinging – check out his blog at http://earsaringing.blogspot.co.uk/.

If our review has piqued your interest in the film, you can buy the Run Lola Run DVD from Amazon by clicking here (and we get a little bit of cash if you do – thanks in advance).

Anyway, without further ado, let us present our feature presentation:

Click here to download and listen on your MP3 player of choice:

101 Films Podcast 043 – Run Lola Run

Click below to subscribe on iTunes, join our RSS feed or follow us on Facebook and Twitter:

We’d love to hear your own film recommendations – please get in touch at 101filmsyoushouldhaveseen@gmail.com or leave a comment on the blog. Feel free to say nice things about us on iTunes!

Director: Tom Tykwer  Year of release: 1998 Studio/Distributor: X-Filme Creative Pool/Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR)/Arte Country: Germany

Princess Mononoke: Definitely Probably The Best Anime Ever Made

This week we’ve struggled through the fearsome heat in our ‘recording studio’ to bring you a podcast about, by our reckoning, the best animé ever made: Princess Mononoke. Admittedly, I somehow ended up saying it’s ‘definitely probably the best animé ever made’ in the podcast (which, let’s face it, doesn’t even make sense), but in retrospect I feel we can upgrade that rather wishy washy statement to ‘definitely’. And if you disagree… well, you’re welcome to, it’s a free society after all.

I saw Princess Mononoke for the first time around 10 years ago, and it was this film that inspired me to hunt out and watch the entire output of Studio Ghibli, which, if you’re not familar with it, is sort of like the Japanese Disney, but with more violence and general weirdness. It seems natural to compare Studio Ghibli to Disney in the sense that they’re both exceptionally important and well-respected animation companies in their home countries, but beyond that their films really have very little in common: I doubt you’d see someone having both their arms shot off in a Disney film, for example.

But aside from the violence, the major difference between Princess Mononoke and the output of Disney is the sheer weight of story. The director and writer Hayao Miyazaki (if you will, the Walt Disney of Japan) doesn’t shy away from introducing ambiguity into the characters, and we end up with a complex web of character interactions in which it’s difficult to clearly delineate the ‘good’ characters from the ‘bad’. It’s quite a refreshing change from dumbed down Hollywood tales of the lone hero wreaking ‘justice’ on his one-dimensional ‘evil’ foes.

Visually too, the film is a cut above your usual animation, and there are some truly breathtaking sequences involving the gods of the forest, along with some epic battle scenes. It’s one of those films that really sticks in your mind for years afterwards. If you haven’t seen it, rectify this oversight immediately.

Thanks to Lara and Sam for recommending the film, and thanks to everyone who’s written in with their recommendations so far – we’ll make sure to read them all out in our upcoming podcasts. Ian’s away next week, meaning we’ll be back in a couple of weeks’ time, so until then we’ll leave you with this week’s feature presentation:

Click here to download and listen on your MP3 player of choice:

101 Films Podcast 031 – Princess Mononoke

OR subscribe on iTunes by clicking on the link below:

We’d love to hear your own film recommendations – please get in touch at 101filmsyoushouldhaveseen@gmail.com or leave a comment on the blog.

Director: Hayao Miyazaki Year of release: 1997 Studio/Distributor: Studio Ghibli Country: Japan

I have to say, it’s incredible. You really look like a woman! Does make-up make men beautiful?

It’s the old, old story. Blind masseur comes to town, does a bit of gambling, meets a cross dresser and his/her sister and then brutally murders dozens of criminals. How many times have we heard that tale? And this is the plot of this week’s film, Zatoichi. Cliché! Still, the 101 Films boys found a lot to like in this, the first listener recommended film!

Without further ado, here’s this week’s feature presentation… Click below:

Or download and listen on your MP3 player of choice:

101 Films Podcast 020 – Zatoichi

OR subscribe on iTunes by clicking on the link below:

We’d love to hear your own film recommendations – please get in touch at 101filmsyoushouldhaveseen@gmail.com or leave a comment on the blog.

Director: Takeshi Kitano Year of release: 2003 Studio/Distributor: Bandai Visual, Tokyo FM, Dentsu, TV Asahi, Saitō Entertainment, Office Kitano Country: Japan

Podcast 020: Zatoichi

It’s the old, old story. Blind masseur comes to town, does a bit of gambling, meets a cross dresser and his/her sister and then brutally murders dozens of criminals. How many times have we heard that tale? And this is the plot of this week’s film, Zatoichi. Cliché! Still, the 101 Films boys found a lot to like in this, the first listener recommended film!

101 Films Podcast 020 – Zatoichi