Archive for the ‘Brie Larson Experiment’ Category

Movies Since Last Post: 

Fate of the Furious
The Gift (2015)
Planet Hulk
Lincoln
Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising
Free Fire
Nasty Baby
The Deerhunter
The Hurt Locker

The 2017 movie tally now stands at 41 (Hey, one for every year of my life), and while that’s not horrible for 4 months, I have a small fear that things may start to slow down. For one, baseball season is in full swing, but that’s a minor problem. Here is what I may think will be the issue, and it’s not something I could have predicted; We really like TV shows.

Between Netflix and Amazon, the perception was that I could find basically any movie I wanted. I was only limited by my imagination. I mentioned in a previous post that I was a video store jockey, and when I started this quest, I figured it would be similar to going to a video store back in the day. Aisles and aisles of movies, divided up by genre and usually even alphabetized for you, all for the renting. Really, your only nemesis was if another customer was thinking the same way you were. And if you happened to be at a Blockbuster, that was not always an issue because, if your choice was a popular new release, they would literally order a billion copies of it. So, as long as you didn’t have super-eclectic tastes, you would probably go home happy.

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Did anyone actually rent my staff picks?

But the game has changed. Now, if I am just trying to spend an evening watching a movie, I can go to Amazon, click on Prime Video, and the very top bar is a scrolling ad for Amazon’s original series’. Below that, I get Recommended Movies and then Recently Added Movies. Fair enough. I’m sure they’ve done their research and determined that people like to watch shows, and hey, it’s not like it’s a lot of work to scroll down an inch to see what movies they have. So I’ll stop whining.

Heh, no I won’t. I’m making a point here. Similarly, Netflix, a site where you can’t even buy other cool stuff like cat litter and toilet paper, has a lovely scrolling ad promoting their original series, and a whole lot of comedy specials, which I find interesting. Again, Netflix and Amazon have tons of customer data that says that we like shows (and I guess people like comedy specials). So that’s what they give us. I don’t blame them for not catering to some weirdo who wants to watch a lot of movies in a year and has a thing for Brie Larson.

The interesting part, though, is that the number of movies on Netflix is around 4500, and dropping. And according to Variety, Amazon Prime Video has “four times as many films available for streaming.” Funny thing is that Hulu has jumped ahead of Netflix, “with 3,588 shows and 6,656 movies,” as of last March. Netflix has apparently not disputed the fact that they are moving away a little from obtaining the rights to existing titles, instead choosing to invest in original content, estimating spending “more than $6 billion [in 2017], investing about 5% of its cash content budget in original films.” Original films doesn’t sound that bad, but it doesn’t exactly replace the video store. I’m actually wondering where the Hell they get $6 billion in the first place. I know everyone has it nowadays, but that’s a lot of lettuce.

Back to that stat about Amazon, though. it’s all well and good to say that they have 4 times as many movies as Netflix, but what does it matter of most of those movies are shit? A quick glance at the first few comedy movies they suggest to me shows Daddy’s Home, Dirty Grampa and… Classic TV Bloopers? Hey, I get that we all need a a laugh once in awhile, but if I go to Amazon because I want to spend an evening watching a movie, I’m probably not interested in watching Classic TV Bloopers. Call me crazy.

So, they have a lot of crap, and I spend a lot of time scrolling and searching for something that I can watch. In fact, I am limited to my imagination, but I’m also kind of limited to what they happen to be highlighting at a certain point (I’m probably going to end up watching The Purge: Election Year at some point, just because it’s there.) This is what lead me to Nasty Baby, which was a pretty nasty movie starring Kristen Wiig as a straight woman who has agreed to be a surrogate mother to a gay couple. Maybe if they had played it a different, that would have made for a good premise, but instead the thing just took a turn and went straight to Crazy Town. I love Kristen Wiig, but this was not one of her better moments (especially the actual moment when they actually showed her injecting herself with the guy’s… stuff. I know it’s a visual medium, but, damn.)

There’s still the old tried-and-true movie theater, though, right? And with summer here, I’ll sure to be hitting the reclining seats more often. Why, yes, however, there’s a little hook there, too. And it coincides with this posts’ Brie Larson pick: the indie shoot-’em-up comedy Free Fire (which I highly recommend)I saw this at the Assembly Row theater in Somerville, which still kind of has the “new theater smell” going on. First of all, the young woman next to me was completely shocked when the first guy got shot (I’m not sure what movie she thought she was seeing, but even if you have no idea what it’s about, it started out with a bunch of dudes buying a bunch of guns, so there’s a good chance somebody is going to get shot.) She kept talking to her boyfriend, even after I told them to quiet down, in so many words. After the gun play really got going, she got up and left and never came back. So, no harm done, I guess.

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In so many words…

But here’s the real kicker: with about five minutes left in the movie, three people come in, phones out, voices loud, and start searching for their seats. Again, I tell them to please keep it down (in so many words), but they don;t seem to understand that they are either very late or very early. Finally, someone else in the theater tells them that there’s only a few minutes left, and they need to get out. Of course, a few minuets later when we are all exiting the theater, these three idiots are standing at the door. I checked the next showtime, and it turns out, it didn’t start for another forty minutes. First of all, these dummies walked in to a dark theater 45 minutes before their show and don;t seem to notice that there’s a movie going on. And what’s even more annoying is that the theater employees obviously let them in and didn’t tell them that their show wasn’t seating yet. Unless they were trying to “double feature” it, but there was only five minutes left, anyway, so they deserved to get yelled at.

I could (and maybe will) do a whole post on how little patience I have for people who don’t know how to behave in a movie theater, but at the moment, suffice it to say:

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So, I guess the point of all this is that this experiment might be a little harder going forward. The solution might just be to get a Hulu account.

Movies Since Last Post:

Digging for Fire
Everything Must Go
Nightcrawler
Ghost in the Shell (2017)
Bridge of Spies
Almost Famous
The End of the Tour

 

I had been trying to come up with a cool name for this silly project that previously had the exhilarating title of “2017 – A Year of Movies.” I thought it was a funny title seeing as how I happened upon several Brie Larson movies, and I also was hoping it would maybe get me a few more hits if some people were Googling “Brie Larson.” Or even “Brie Larson side boob.”

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Yep. I Googled it.

Speaking of Larson, the selection for this post was intentional: the little-seen indie Digging for Fire, where she plays a small role as a young co-ed who is kinda-sorta courted by Jake Johnson. I can’t really say I didn’t like this movie, but I didn’t hate it. The story is that young parents Johnson and Rosemarie Dewitt are hitting all kinds of ruts, financially, romantically and just in general feeling old and grumpy as they house-sit for a much-richer couple. She and their young son go to spend a weekend with her mother so they can have some Me time. He spends it by inviting some of his crazy party-animal friends over and doing some drugs, and she spends it getting seduced by Orlando Bloom. One of Jake’s druggie friends had invited some girls over, one of whom was played by Brie Larson. Now, of course, because young screenwriters are really doughy-eyed, Johnson and Dewitt resist all urges and realize that all they really want is each other, and to raise their child as they see fit and to Hell with the pressures of the world (Yay!). The problem is the movie presents them both as such depressed (and depressing) losers that I was kind of rooting for them to cheat, if for no other reason than to make the hour-and-a-half I just spent watching it seem worthwhile.

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I mean, you gotta nail that down

And the fact that they cast Orlando Bloom as Dewitt’s suitor? Come on. After that romantic walk on the beach they took, even I wanted to jump him. The note I made in my spreadsheet next to this movie was, ” I love when Hollywood people try to pretend they’re real people.”

But these posts aren’t supposed to just be about the movies themselves. They are about my observations with regards to how they are consumed, and in some instances, why they are consumed. One thing I noticed about most of this crop of movies is that they seemed like vanity projects. I know for a fact that Ghost in the Shell was something that has been in the works for years. Everything Must Go (based on a story by Raymond Carver) struck me as one of those movies that Will Farrell does once in a while to show people that he is a “real actor.” Bridge of Spies was one of those Spielberg/Hanks collaborations that was designed to make you think, which is pretty much all Spielberg does these days (and after the reviews for B.F.G, maybe he should stick to historical drama.) And Almost Famous was a sometimes funny take on Cameron Crowe’s days as a reporter for Rolling Stone, obviously a movie that he wanted to make, and after the success of Jerry Maguire, had the power to do so. Not that these were not good movies on a certain level, but the only one that had any real teeth to it was Nightcrawler, Jake Gyllenhaal’s frightening portrayal of a freelance news cameraman who ends up making the news that he’s attempting to capture. Definitely an eye-opening movie, if for no other reason than to remind the world that Jake Gyllenhaal can actually act.

In the vein of vanity projects, I want to talk about The End of the Tour, based on David Lipsky’s book, Although Of Course, You End Up Becoming Yourself: My Road Trip with David Foster Wallace, which is a pretty cool title, but I understand why a movie studio wouldn’t think it very marketable. It is a very interesting take on Wallace (Jason Seagal) and how he dealt with fame and success after the release of his book Infinite Jest. Seeing that he committed suicide, it seems not so well, but there’s definitely layers to this movie (and more than just “the Cold War was bad,” like Bridge of Spies.)

Anyway, the basic premise is that Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg), a writer for Rolling Stone, hears that this Infinite Jest book is basically Shakespeare, and is rather annoyed at the praise (basically because he just released a book to mild apathy.) Lipsky then reads the book and discovers that it is that damn good, and asks his boss if he can interview Wallace for Rolling Stone, and follows him for a few days as Wallace is wrapping up his book tour.(Side-note: after watching this and Almost Famous back-to-back, it was weird to think that Rolling Stone, and magazines in general, were actually relevant not too long ago.) Lipsky has this sort of puppy-love for Wallace, even before meeting him, basically because he wants that level of success and respect, only to realize that even David Foster Wallace doesn’t actually want to be David Foster Wallace. Wallace is very self-conscious about how he will come across in Lipsky’s article, mostly because he is afraid of sounding like a self-righteous douche. He is, in fact, anything but, as he generally is portrayed as a kind of lonely guy who lives in the middle of Nowhere, Illinois with his dogs and likes to write, but isn’t really all that concerned if anyone likes his books. Obviously, Lipsky is the complete opposite, and can’t wrap his head around why this beatnick doesn’t care about anything.

There’s a funny scene where Lipsky asks Wallace why he wears a bandanna all the time. Wallace’s answer is that he used to sweat a lot, and it kept the sweat out of his eyes, and it eventually just became a type of security blanket. It’s a perfectly reasonable (if not very sexy for readers of Rolling Stone) response, but Wallace is nervous that he will come off as being a little high-and-mighty, like some super-genius who is too good to even comb, let alone wash, his hair. Again, that is not even close to being true, but Wallace is so worried about being perceived as pretentious that he is completely neurotic about it. He is not too worried about his writing being accepted by the public, but he definitely doesn’t want the public to think he’s a prick.

There’s another layer when Lipsky, after being pressured by his boss, asks Wallace about the time he was institutionalized years earlier, because the common belief was that it was because of a heroin addiction. Wallace is incredibly insulted by this, citing that the only addiction he’s ever had was television (which is depicted very clearly and hilariously in the movie). He tells Lipsky that he was just incredibly unhappy, so unhappy that people assumed he turned to heroin to make himself feel better (The movie does gloss over Wallace’s many foibles, like sleeping with his students, excessive drinking, and even stalking women that he was attracted to. I guess being a TV addict just made him more likable.) Wallace compares his depression to a person jumping out the window of a burning building because the perception that burning to your death is worse than falling to it. The real reason he was so unhappy, at least, the way I read it, was because he had broken up with his girlfriend. It’s never made explicit, but Wallace gets very angry at Lipsky for hitting on his ex right in front of him, so yeah, I made that jump. Truly, that’s probably the best reason to be unhappy that’s ever been. Loneliness is certainly a more plausible reason for depression than, “Fame was too much for me, man.” (I’m looking at you, Cobain!)

I could go on, but the reason this movie spoke to me was because I could see both sides of the coin. As a schlub who has written comic books that I wish sold better (which can be purchased here!), I could identify with Lipsky. You put your heart and soul into something you really love, you want people to like it as much as you do, and maybe make a little salad at the same time. However, as my life has gone on, and I’ve met some comic book professionals, I can also see a little bit of Wallace’s point. He’s a regular guy suffering from depression who happens to be blessed with great intelligence, but all he wants is to be regular, and have someone to talk about his day with when he gets home. I admit that I don’t know much about the real David Foster Wallace (although he apparently taught at Emerson for a little while in 1991, so I guess I just missed him.), but if he’s anything like the comic book professionals I have met, I do understand him. No one gets into comics because they want to become rich. They just have some creativity to spare and a need to express themselves, one way or another. I doubt that Wallace wrote a 1,000-plus page novel figuring that it would be The One. You could say he just got lucky, although considering how it ended up for him, you would probably be wrong.

As I said, however, I do understand Wallace on some level. I have enjoyed writing comics, but one thing I really do not enjoy is trying to get people to read them. He really didn’t like his book tour. He didn’t seem too happy to be featured in Rolling Stone. But he did seem to like having Lipsky around to talk to, and that’s pretty much all anyone could ask for.

Movies Watched Since Last Post: 

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
Dark Harbor
Kedi
I Am Big Bird
Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai
Spotlight
The Gambler
Nintendo Quest

It’s been almost three weeks now, and a rather sad number of movies. Eight in eighteen days is not the kind of run I was hoping for when i started this, especially since the last one, the mind-boggling Nintendo Quest (more on that in a minute) was finished on the 26th of March, and I am now on the 30th.  I will say that I had to study for a certification exam for my actual job, which I ended up barely not passing, which I guess means that I am not qualified for a job that I’ve had for about 18 years, and I’ve just been fooling everyone all this time.

Before I get into the nuances of movie-watching these days, the Brie Larson sighting for this post was in Mark Wahlberg’s The Gambler, It was not horrible, despite Brie having a kind of small role, and Mark Wahlberg being in it. I should have hated it, but something about it was strangely compelling, and not just Brie Larson in glasses:

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Rowr!

So, anyway, a little break was necessary, but also, I am running into my first problem with my quest. That problem is that I am running out of available movies to watch (Remember, these movies have to be ones I have never seen, so part of the problem is I’ve seen a lot.) When you break it down, these are the major platforms I am using: Amazon Prime, Netflix, Xfinity OnDemand and actually going out to the movies (with the occasional DVD thrown in). Weirdly enough, despite the fact that 11 out of 26 movies I have watched have been via Amazon, that may be the worst platform of them all because they have sooooo many bad movies on there, and in the time I have spent sifting through the refuse, I could probably have watched a couple of them. Part of this is on me, I realize, because I simply have no desire to watch Dirty Granpa, I’d feel a little gross watching Chain Gang Women, and I won’t watch anything starring Jason Statham, so that cuts out a good chunk of their library right there.  (Call me a film snob, but…) That’s just for the free movies, of course. You can pay to “rent” them digitally, but the real kick in the nuts about that is that you have 30 days to start it after you pay, but only 24 hours to finish it after you start. So, read the fine print, kids. I paid $3.99 to watch King of Kong, the documentary about the guy who has the highest score ever on Donkey Kong. I got about 40 minutes in and then life happened and I had to wait a couple days, only to realize that my window had closed.  Man, can you imagine if video store employees could come to your house and take back the movie if you started it and didn’t finish within 24 hours? Because that’s what Amazon has digitally done to me.

It’s funny, but I am only just getting used to paying to rent something that you don’t actually possess (and will only have for a day once you start it), and having it just disappear from your “digital library” like it never was. As I said, I worked in a video store for years, and a movie theater before that, so seeing movies for free was a regular occurrence, but that’s not the real hang-up for me. Something about renting it and never holding it in your hand makes you think that you’re just throwing money away (and in the case of King of Kong, I was.)  As a child, I would feed quarter after quarter into video games that seemingly had no point, other than the pleasure of it, but now, as an adult, I won’t spend $.99 on an app for my phone because that just seems like a waste. Is there some psychological theory about touching the things you are using that is lost now, or am I just cheap?

Along those lines, I wanted to talk about Nintendo Quest a little. This documentary (I went a little documentary crazy these last couple weeks) is about a young man, Jay, who loves video games, especially the original Nintendo Entertainment System. He loves it so much that his friend dared him to acquire all 678 games in 30 days, not using the internet for any of the purchases. So, this sounded like a fun little adventure to me. There are apparently some extremely rare games out there, so a big part of the movie was finding someone who had them and bartering with that person, and part of the story thread of the movie (and docs do have stories) is that Jay isn’t very good at bartering, so the point of the quest was really to get him out of his shell a little. Sounds fun, right?

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Not so fast. There were a lot of holes here (and this is where my film school snobbery really comes out). My first big problem was that Day 1 of the quest consisted of him going to his friend’s houses and just taking any games that they own. So, the quest doesn’t actually involve “buying” all the games, as much as “acquiring” them. I guess it’s cheaper this way, but kind of a cop-out. The movie does mention that part of the quest was staying under budget, which I get. These are just a couple dudes, after all, with jobs and bills and stuff (and a sick dog, which even factors into the story). The problem is that they never mention what their budget actually is. They just have a Price is Right-style counter on the side whenever Jay buys a game that tells you how close he is getting to maxing out. The film does sometimes mention that he got a good deal, or that $5 was too much for a certain game, but I don’t know what $5 means to this guy. If his budget was a few hundred dollars,  OK, $5 a game is a lot when you have to buy 678 of them. But if you have thousands, for the sake of the movie, buy the damn thing (They do mention briefly at the end that he “spent his life savings,” which sort of seems like a waste in retrospect.) They also spend a really long portion of the movie showing Jay negotiating a deal with a collector in Florida who wants to sell him Stadium Events, apparently the Holy Grail of Nintendo games, for $4000, which the filmmakers tell us is a good deal. The hang-up is that Jay doesn’t like to fly, and doesn’t have the time (or inclination) to drive to Florida, and the guy doesn’t want to just give him the game without getting paid first. As I’m watching this, I’m thinking that the big finale of the movie is that, for the good of the quest, he gets on a plane and flies down and gets his Holy Grail.

Nope. That deal falls apart, and doesn’t factor into the movie at all after that. In fact, Jay doesn’t actually complete the quest in the allotted 30 days. He actually ends up way off, and Stadium Events was one of the games he missed. He ends up getting it from a different dealer, who is only to happy to part with it. They show Jay buying it, and act like it’s a big deal because he finally got it, but they also tell us that he bought the rest of the ones he needed on eBay, and they show him buying Stadium Events from that guy 8 months later. It’s kind of a nice point to make when he says how it felt impersonal to buy them on eBay (which is kind of what I was saying earlier), because he connected with a lot of people on his way to buying the 678 654 games. But by this point, who cares? The point was to do it in 30 days and not use the internet.

I suppose it’s an interesting case-study of what happens when two guys set out to make a documentary about something, and then that something doesn’t take place. I mean, you’re kind of stuck, amiright? I was trying to put myself in their shoes and think about what I would do. You have to finish it, since you went through all the trouble, but could you lie and leave out the “8 months later” part and just say he did it? Who would know? My theory is that they started it, realized it was impossible, and decided to make it about finding this one game, because they are literally hours away from the deadline and he is still knocking around a store in his hometown, seeing if he could find anything. And they weren’t too concerned about having more than twenty games left to get. I also feel like something personal may have happened that they didn’t want to include (there’s some weird side story about what a dick Jay’s Dad was, and then how bad he felt when he died), but definitely got in the way.

I do remember when I was younger, maybe even a little younger than Jay and his friends, and I wanted to make a doc about my friends’ band. It was only a few months later when the band kind of broke up because that’s what your friends’ bands do. I then thought it would be funny to call the doc “The Band That Never Was,” and just make it about how friends’ bands almost always end (often badly), but realized there’s not much of a movie there. This was, of course, before there was a Youtube or any place where people could ever watch anything online, but if there was, maybe I would have continued and been an internet sensation. As it was, my interest waned, probably the same way that these guys’ interest in Nintendo games should have, maybe 30 years or so ago.

I know I sound kind of cynical, especially when you consider the whole “It’s about the journey” rationale, but something about this film, as annoying as it was at times to my grumpy mind, that struck a chord with me. Here I am, trying to watch as many movies as possible in a year. Will I get bored in June and simply drop it? Will I hate most movies by then? Will I realize it’s all kind of pointless, like “acquiring” every Nintendo game is to most people? Or will Matt Dursin, like Jay, discover something about himself along the way?

We shall see. Until then…

Brie Larson

I may have to watch Scott Pilgrim again. And again.

 

As a film student at Emerson in 1997 (which I realize was now 20 years ago), I was taking Film Writing & Design with a horrible professor who told me that all people in Hollywood watch movies constantly, like literally that’s all they do. I think he actually said, “hundreds a year.” So I thought I would make a list of all the movies I watched that year and see if I matched up. I worked in a video store and got free rentals, so I thought it would be easy to make a decent number. This list only included movies that were new to me, so even though, for example, I saw Star Wars in a theater that year, that didn’t count because, even though it was the Special Edition, I had seen it before (many, many times). I made it to about 100 movies, I think, which kind of surprised me being that it was so low, and probably wouldn’t have gotten into any Hall of Fame in Hollywood.

Back in 1997, though, you didn’t have too many opportunities to see new movies. You either saw them in a theater or rented them in a video store. I know there were movies channels on cable, but my parents didn’t subscribe to them because my mother was convinced that they just showed the same movies over and over. She wasn’t entirely wrong, but it wasn’t until I became a functional adult that I made up for lost time by subscribing to every movie channel I could. I know this may be snobbish, but I don’t really count watching them on a regular channel, like TBS or something. Something about the commercials just ruins the experience for me.

But in 2017, there are many ways to watch movies, so I decided to try again. Obviously, the method would be a little different this time around. Sadly, video stores are no more, although there are many uses for those old VHS tapes, as you can see:

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Anyway, I would try to watch as many new (to me) movies as possible, and catalog them. And not in a spiral notebook like in 1997. This time, I could use a spreadsheet on Google Drive, with the date I watched it and also how I watched it. I thought that by the end of the year, it could be a cool way to examine how we watch movies nowadays (or it could just be a whole lot of nothing).

So, as of this writing (March 5th), I have watched 13 movies. Again, not breaking any records, but I was already a few weeks into January when I decided to do this, so I probably would have watched a couple more if I was actually trying. February was a big month, with 8 movies watched, with half of them being watched on Amazon Prime video. March promises to be even bigger, as I’ve already watched 3 movies (Don Jon, The Spectacular Now, and Logan), and it’s only the 5th. I also somehow managed to watch three Brie Larson movies in a row. I honestly didn’t even know she had made that many movies. She is a great actress, though, and I’m definitely looking forward to her as Captain Marvel.

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The one observation I can make now, and it’s a pretty obvious one, is that watching movies on a computer has changed the game completely. It’s a really interesting way to consume them, in fact, because as a younger, snobbier man, I didn’t really like watching a movie, stopping it at some point, going to do something else, and then coming back to it (even though you could certainly do that with a VCR tape, and I did, but it always felt like cheating somehow). I always thought that movies were meant to be enjoyed in a single sitting. Now, either because I’m just older and I just don’t care, or because of the technology, I feel like it’s cool to just pause it on your computer and go back when you want. In fact, most of the movies that I’ve watched on Amazon and Xfinity OnDemand have taken me days to watch, and I don’t think it diminished my enjoyment of them (if I indeed enjoyed them at all.) Maybe it was because video store rentals had to be returned after a couple days, but my Amazon Prime movies don’t need to be returned, as long as I pay that bill.

Speaking of paying, another interesting aspect of this experiment thus far is that out of 13 movies, I have only paid for four of them, being The LEGO Batman movie, Get Out, Logan and The Spectacular Now (yeah, I spent money to rent that one on Amazon, and that was a bit of a mistake.) Now, I do pay for Amazon Prime and I pay a cable bill that allows me to watch movies on the Xfinity website, but I don’t know if I’m contributing to a film’s gross by doing that. I will say, though, that it makes it easier to watch a lot of movies when you don’t have to directly pay for them (Or leave the house! Even getting free video rentals in 1997 didn’t make it this easy.)

My one fear? That the math will catch up to me. I know myself, and even though there are thousands of movies available to me, right at my fingertips no less, there are also thousands of them that I literally have no desire to see. So, after 13 movies in just over two months, I’m on pace to watch a couple hundred, and my concern is that there aren’t actually that many movies that I want to see. I mean, I may not be paying directly for them, but, time is money. So, do I want to spend my time on them?

We shall see. I’ll update my progress periodically, so stay tuned.