Friday, November 22, 2013

Weekend Stream for 11/22/13

The Weekend Stream is a weekly feature curating content from the current selection on Netflix's US streaming service for you to watch each weekend. Just click the links or search for the bolded titles on your preferred Netflix-watching device, and you're in business! Since content can disappear from Netflix 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, see?!

Weekend Stream for 11/22/13

This week's titles aren't really related in any way, although two of them tie in with content that's premiering this week in theaters or on the TV. Let's get to it, shall we?

So this week's big theatrical film is, of course, Catching Fire, the sequel to The Hunger Games. But when the first film was released, many people compared its plot with Battle Royale (2000), a Japanese film based on a popular novel and its subsequent manga. In the movie, the country has decided to fight back against rebellious students by passing a law mandating a yearly contest-cum-punishment. A class is randomly chosen, drugged, and brought to an island where they are forced to fight each other to the death. If they refuse or run for it, an explosive collar will detonate and remove their head. There is no Katniss, here, only a bunch of kids acting like kids might in this situation (suicide, panic, weak alliances), and a few random psychopaths who seem born for the job. Similarly, the film's political statements are a bit more jejune than those of The Hunger Games, coming across more as an attempt to justify the story's lurid subject matter. Our lead is Shuya (Tatsuya Fujiwara), a shy boy recovering from a family tragedy, who nonetheless has hidden reserves of heart and guile that he calls on during the contest. Director Kinji Fukasaku doesn't shy away from showing gratuitous blood and outrageous child-on-child fight sequences. The whole thing might be a little too much, especially as concerns certain sensitive areas of the anatomy, but you may enjoy its provocative tone and grotesque sensibility.

The next pick doesn't have anything to do with anything coming out now, but it might be a fun family watch all the same. As you might recall, a while back Netflix completed a deal with Disney allowing it to stream many of The Mouse House's films. Included among those is The Emperor's New Groove (2000), a film that seems to have developed something of a cult fandom—if ever anything Disney produced could be called "cult"—on the internet of late. It's a tale seemingly set in pre-Columbian South America, where narcissistic teen Emperor Cuzco (David Spade) blindly mistreats peasants like Pacha (John Goodman), a family man whose village the Emperor intends to raze to build a summer palace. But Cuzco's unearned arrogance rankles his adviser, the ancient sorcerer Yzma (Eartha Kitt), and she plans to kill Cuzco and usurp his place. However, thanks to her bumbling, conflicted guard Kronk (Patrick Warburton), the plan goes wrong and Cuzco is instead turned into a llama. Now, Cuzco is forced to team up with Pacha to restore order to the empire, and he just might learn a thing or two along the way. Groove is by no means the best Disney film, but it may well be the silliest and most slapstick-oriented since the old Donald Duck shorts. The film's humor derives in equal measure from David Reynolds's script and director Mark Dindal's eye for timing visual jokes that recall classic Warner Brothers fare. Though these elements aren't always laugh-out-loud funny, here, they create a pleasant, easy-to-watch tone that helps the film grow on you as it goes along.

Finally, this weekend the BBC marks the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, the great time-travel adventure show, with a big special featuring at least two of the Doctor's incarnations. Unless you have your own time machine, there's no way you'll be able to catch up before "The Day of the Doctor" simulcasts around the world on Saturday, but Netflix does give you the option of watching selections from the classic series or the entirety of the revived series that's been airing since 2005. If you don't know the back story, The Doctor is a friendly alien—a Time Lord, a race capable of seeing all of space and time and regenerating into new bodies (and actors) when mortally wounded—who has a special fondness for the Earth. He and his (usually human) companions travel through space and time in the TARDIS, a ship stuck in the guise of a '60s police call box, meeting historical figures and saving the planet and/or galaxy from deadly enemies. Storylines are serialized, though the show's basic formula and standalone adventures do make it easy to pick up at almost any point (even if current showrunner Steven Moffat is more into complicated arcs that make more sense when watched in order). While the classic show can be fun, I recommend you start with the beginning of the series's revival or, barring that, with the fifth season, the start of the run for the most recent Doctor (the 11th, played by the incredible Matt Smith).* Whichever point of entry you choose, you'll likely find the show smart, funny, exciting, often campy, and almost always a great ride.

I also posted this list of my favorite post-revival episodes before the sixth season aired, if you'd prefer to skip around like you yourself have time at your beck and call.

With that, let's call it a week. It's been a tiring, trying one for me. I might have to make some changes 'round here... we'll have to see. Join me back here next week!

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