Saturday, November 22, 2008

"More like this"

The New York Times has a Sunday Magazine story about Netflix's $1 million contest to improve how it hooks up customers with other titles based on their personal preferences. With almost the maximum 500 movies in my queue I really don't need anymore, thank you very much--it may take me the rest of my life to get through those--but I decided to see how their present recommendations system is doing.

No. 4 in my queue: Tropic Thunder

"More like this": Be Kind Rewind, Pauly Shore is Dead, Tenacious D in: The Pick of Destiny, Nobody Knows Anything.

Assessment: Two Jack Black flops. If only Pauly Shore were dead (cinematically speaking, of course). And I've never heard of Nobody Knows Anything, a Hollywood farce suggested by William Goldman's Hollywood dictum. But it's in line with Tropic Thunder's spoofery.

Action: No rental. Wag the Dog might be a better suggestion.

No. 17: Snow Angels (pictured)

"More like this": All the Real Girls, Little Children, The Squid and the Whale, Punch-Drunk Love.

Assessment: I'm not getting a Punch-Drunk Love or Squid vibe from my eventual rental. But Little Children, and a prior film of the director's, are in the ballpark.

Action: Closer. David Gordon Green's Pineapple Express would be an interesting juxtaposition but the system may not make that kind of leap.

No. 138: Mikey and Nicky

"More like this": Opening Night, The Cheap Detective, Undisputed, Columbo: Murder, A Self-Portrait

Assessment: John Cassavetes' Opening Night, another "prior film by", is right on the money. (Interesting that these come up first.) But co-star Peter Falk in safer roles doesn't compute. And the prison-set boxing picture Undisputed is just bewildering.

Action: If I hadn't seen it before I would have put Opening Night in my queue. The system was wonky on the others, though.

No. 289: Gypsy (Bette Midler version)

"More like this": A Star is Born (1954), Funny Girl, Isn't She Great, The Five Heartbeats.

Assessment: The two classic musicals, spotlighting two big talents, are appropriate--why not the 1962 Rosalind Russell version, however? A lackluster Midler bio-pic is insufficient; how about The Rose to segue from Mama Rose? The Five Heartbeats is another oddity, as if a racial quota needs to be fulfilled.

Action: Off note.

No. 441: The Wayward Cloud

"More like this": In the Mood for Love, I Don't Want to Sleep Alone, What Time is it There?, The Hole

Assessment: If I ever get to this acclaimed Taiwanese drama, these are good recommendations, all but one by the same director. Auteurism in practice.

Action: I'll take I Don't Want to Sleep Alone.

For a million dollars I wouldn't add most of these to my queue based on the present system, but it did come through for me in one instance, or 20 percent of the time. I think movie-watching patterns may defy any computerized categorization. But it's better than Amazon's terminally daft recommendations.

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