Roku Netflix Player

I’ve been a very happy Netflix subscriber for almost a decade. The wide selection of movies and lack of pressure about returning at any particular time works really well for me. We all know that
Netflix’s rent-by-mail model will be replaced by net-based delivery before too long
, but the video-on-slow-demand model has been more than good enough — if it went away without something better replacing it, I’d be upset. And so far, nothing seemed better from a convenience standpoint: I wanted to watch on my TV, not hook up a full computer to the TV, use a normal remote control, and pay a fixed price per month for whatever we watch.

Last week, I ordered the Roku Netflix player and it arrived tonight. Setting it up took about five minutes, the bulk of which was trying to reach the outlet behind the piece of furniture underneath the TV. After it was running, we could watch any of the “watch instantly” titles from our queue. Took about five to ten seconds after selecting something for it to start playing.

The UI is pretty minimal, which is exactly what one wants. Rather than a fancy device which does a lot of things, this plays movies from Netflix. Period. Pausing, rewinding, and fast forwarding all work with a nice, Coverflow-esque UI. Queue management is not done on the player but on a normal web browser on some other machine.

The biggest drawback is that the selection available to watch instantly is still limited — about 10% of the things on my DVD queue were available for instant watching. That doesn’t bother me, because we’ll keep up our usual Netflix subscription and use this as a supplement until the world ends up cutting over to online delivery.

The other drawback we’ve hit is that you don’t have access to subtitles from the DVD. Apparently closed-captioning may be available for some things, but the subtitles usually interfere much less with programming than closed captions. We tend to watch with the sound fairly low and subtitles on after the kids are in bed. But, we can live with this.

For $100, I’m pretty happy with the box.

Terrible title, but a surprisingly good movie

We watched Who is Cletis Tout? tonight. We’d held off on watching it, even though we’d had the disc at home for a while, because, given the title, we just weren’t looking forward to it. But it turns out to be a really fun caper movie. A little contrived and with holes in the plot, but I enjoyed it a lot more than I had expected to.

Kudos to Netflix for their recommendation system, which picked this as one we’d really enjoy.

Children of Men

We saw Children of Men tonight. It is unrelentingly bleak and one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time. The handheld, jerky cinematography starts off distracting and then became essential to the storytelling. Terrific performances from everyone, especially Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, and Michael Caine.

(I’ve read most of P. D. James’s novels, but I hadn’t read this one; I’ve heard the movie diverged quite a bit from it. After Oryx and Crake, I wasn’t ready for another near future world without children. Now I’m probably going to give it a try, probably as an audiobook.)

What a beautiful, brutal film.

A Great Caper Movie

We just saw Inside Man and I’m pleased to say, it’s a great, entertaining, and exciting movie. I’m reminded how much I like Spike Lee‘s movies, from the early, funny ones (She’s Gotta Have It) and the overtly political ones (Do The Right Thing or Jungle Fever) to his later, harder-to-categorize ones (Malcom X or the truly terrific Summer of Sam). I haven’t seen everything of his, and some of what I have seen hasn’t been as good as I had hoped it would be, but there’s no question that he’s both a genius and an incredible movie-maker.

Inside Man is, first and foremost, a caper movie. And like the best caper movies, it combines suspense, great tradecraft, and a stylized look. On top of that, it captures the look and feel — and attitude — of New York (and real New Yorkers) in a way that only Spike Lee movies do; this movie was not filmed in Toronto.

Just go see it.