Friday, September 6, 2013

Weekend Stream for 9/06/13

The Weekend Stream is a weekly feature curating content for you to watch this weekend from the current selection on Netflix's US streaming service. Since titles can disappear with little or no warning, there's always a chance a title will no longer be available by the time you read this, so you'd better act fast, buddy!

Weekend Stream for 09/06/13

There's no real connection between this week's choices. One involves poisonous ambition, one stars an inanimate object and a small child, and one is about the wackier side of corporate culture and technological progress.

First, we have There Will Be Blood, Paul Thomas Anderson's epic story of capitalism, greed, and spiritual corruption during the oil boom. It's a difficult film to describe in words, because so much of it is carried by imagery, by tone, and by performance. Daniel Day-Lewis won an Oscar as Daniel Plainview, a ruthless prospector and businessman whose bottomless ambition and desire for money and power come with a deeper, more personal cost, while Paul Dano plays the local charismatic preacher who stands up to Plainview at his own peril. Oscar winner Robert Elswit's sparse, beautiful imagery couples with Anderson's uniquely oblique storytelling to create a film that's not hard to follow, but which refuses to fit standard modes of reading. Jonny Greenwood (of Radiohead) provides an evocative, percussive score that suits the film's darkness and its mechanical, industrial heart. Haunting, difficult, and unforgettable, There Will Be Blood is one of the first truly great American films of the 21st century.

For a palate cleanser after all of that darkness, why not go with Albert Lamorisse's short The Red Balloon? It's the story of a small French child (played by the director's son Pascal) who one day finds a red balloon tied to a lamppost. When he unties it, he discovers that the balloon seems to have a life of its own. The film hums with a terrific energy, efficiently using its 34-minute running time to tell an emotionally-satisfying story about fantasy-proneness and its ability to mitigate the loneliness and cruelty of childhood. That he does this by somehow imbuing a balloon with vitality and pathos most actors would kill to possess, well, that's the small miracle that makes this film so special. There isn't much dialogue, and most of the backstory is implied or left unsaid. The film's color scheme, consisting mostly of the greys of Paris and the impossible redness of the balloon, does a lot of the thematic heavy lifting. The Red Balloon is the sort of film that everyone, regardless of age, can love and appreciate. If you like Pixar's nearly-silent animated shorts, this is basically their tonal ancestor. Few half-hours are better spent. (PS: Enterprising readers may find The Red Balloon streaming on sites other than Netflix, some of which you may not even have to pay for, if that's your thing...)

Finally, there's Better Off Ted, a short-lived ABC sitcom from Victor Fresco, creator of other short-lived shows like Andy Richter Controls the Universe. The series centers on Ted Crisp (Jay Harrington), a middle management type working at an amoral conglomerate called Veridian Dynamics. Ted is a handsome, smart, popular fellow, a single dad doing the best he can to raise his young daughter Rose (Isabella Acres) to be a good person in spite of the blatant evil of his workplace. But leaving aside the moral quandaries Veridian puts Ted into via his boss Veronica (Portia de Rossi), where the show really shines is in its biting, absurdist satire of corporate culture and the sort of technological advancement that comes with a human cost. The workplace banter comes fast and witty, with supporting characters like potential love interest Linda (Andrea Anders) and scientists Lem and Phil (Malcolm Barrett and Jonathan Slavin) developing great chemistry. The show is also punctuated with fake advertisements for Veridian that are so deadpan and believable, I'm sure ABC's audience was fooled more than once. The series aired over two seasons for a total of twenty-six episodes, which really just isn't enough. But at least that makes Better Off Ted an easily-digestible length for your streaming purposes.

So that's it for this week. Come back next week, when, like a truffle-hunting pig, I'll dig up a few more savory Netflix morsels for your viewing pleasure. Au revoir!


  1. Better Off Ted was the rare combination of smart and silly which naturally didn't go over well with the general population. Great pick!

    1. It was a bit ahead of its time, I think. Not that these sorts of shows ever kill in the ratings, but it could have done better later (and with better, more complementary shows airing around it)