Tag Archives: The Ridiculous 6

The Rise of Netflix

orange is the new black

Ahead of this week’s Netflix Original special edition of the Failed Critics Podcast, Owen Hughes guides us through why exactly Netflix is becoming such a dominant force.

In 1997, I don’t think I even had a computer at home. I, like most people back then, rented films that I wanted to watch from Blockbuster or another local video store. Nostalgia alert: At about 11 years old, my mates and I would ride our bikes the 15 minutes down the road to the big Tesco superstore and rent VHS tapes of (usually) WWF main events from the Blockbuster outside. Old Wrestlemania’s, Royal Rumble’s, Summerslam’s etc, that sort of thing. If we could sneak in a Predator or a Terminator amongst the collection, we would. But they were rarities.

In 1997, a company in the US called Netflix probably quite cannily recognised that not everyone had a Blockbuster within a quarter-of-an-hour bike ride from their home, so instead decided to set up a Blockbuster-by-post type affair. Taking advantage of the new Digital Versatile Disc, much lighter and smaller than a VHS tape, you could rent a movie from them and the shiny new DVD would land the other side of your letterbox within days. Similar to LOVEFilM here in the UK.

Much earlier than pretty much any of its competitors, it expanded to launch a streaming service two years later in 1999. I don’t know about whatever internet connection you had back then, but we had a 56k modem in 1999. It would not have taken too kindly to streaming a 90 minute movie.

After years of operating under this model, expanding its streaming service into other regions around the world (including the UK) they basically took a step back and realised that rather than keep paying a license to other studios for their productions, they actually owned the means and the platform to create their own content. Financially, it was pretty savvy. Now that they had a reputation, people would soon start joining Netflix for their shows, and not other people’s. Their brand was to become renowned.

Looking at it purely from an advertising or marketing perspective; Netflix knew exactly who was watching what content, when they were watching it and where. To paraphrase Nick Bailey, the chief executive and executive creative director of Isobar UK, who gave a talk at the University I’m studying at last week, Netflix knew which dramas that their audience viewed most. Thus, taking a model already in place from an older British show – chiefly the story and setting – they created House of Cards, just over 3 years ago, in February 2013 because apparently their audience liked political dramas and Kevin Spacey.

What was immediately different about House of Cards from Network shows, was that Netflix made all of the episodes available in one go, advert free. Can you imagine just how mind-blowing that must’ve been, particularly for Americans, who don’t have the BBC the way that we do? Just a brand new show that you haven’t got to sit through 15 minutes worth of adverts to enjoy? This wasn’t a box-set released 12 months after airing. It was there, all of it, for you to watch as much of whenever you liked. Current subscribers didn’t even need to pay extra to watch this original content. All you needed was an account and an internet connection.

One of the other innovations that has let Netflix flourish so spectacularly is how they have embraced technological advances. Even moving from tapes to DVDs because they were cheaper to post was pretty innovative. Amazon are arguably their main competitor for streaming content on a subscription basis, particularly over here in the UK, yet they lagged behind quite tremendously when it came to streaming on mobile devices, tablets, TVs, computer consoles etc. Amazon previously used their streaming service to drive sales of their Kindle devices, making it exclusive content. Whereas Netflix were at the forefront of this revolution, setting the market-standard that audiences have come to expect from any provider they now use.

Whether reviving shows from the cold, dark, lonely pit of TV hell, such as Arrested Development, The Killing or Trailer Park Boys, or creating brand new stuff like Sense8, Narcos or Master of None, or even collaborating with other studios for shows such as Lilyhammer, or Marvel’s Daredevil and Jessica Jones, they just seem to be unstoppable at the moment. Free from the same level of restrictions from sponsors, prime-time slots or watersheds, they have been able to create whatever shows they think their audience want.

The Netflix of today are a far cry from the “bargain bin” label they were tarnished with when they first arrived this side of the Atlantic. Hundreds of films, hardly any of which you would want to spend 90 minutes of your life on, was not that alluring. Securing deals to distribute shows in the UK like Breaking Bad is where they mainly earned their crust.

In fact, the most fun you could have had with Netflix back in 2012 was flicking through their endless catalogue of crap looking for the one gem hidden within – but by the point that you found it, you’d be too tired and bored to even bother watching it, as Kate explained a few years back.

Compare that to now… ok, the selection is certainly not always overwhelmingly positive! But comparably they have upped their game on all fronts from what they used to be. Producing their own documentaries, stand-up shows, on top of their Netflix Original TV shows; and now creating movies – award-winning movies, no less, in the case of Beasts of No Nation – it’s no wonder that studios like NBC are getting extremely defensive, trying to exert pressure on them.

It’s not that NBC are entirely wrong. Netflix does not hand out viewing figures, subscription numbers or other statistics (such as how long people spend trawling through their site before giving up entirely) willy-nilly. You can’t even find the overall star-rating for a film on Netflix that isn’t in some way tailored to match your expectations based on whatever algorithm they use; and that’s no surprise. They are under no obligation to share this with anybody. After all, this data mining is exactly why Netflix are getting things so right. This is their audience who they are creating content for. You can understand why they would be apprehensive about publicly sharing this information with the competition.

But the fact that traditional television networks are frightened by the competition that streaming provides just shows how big and influential Netflix are becoming.

They may make blunders occasionally, like Adam Sandler’s unfathomable four-picture deal – critically speaking, I mean, I’d consider it a blunder. The Ridiculous 6 was dire and quite deservingly panned by critics, yet it still became an instant hit and the most watched film across all regions somehow straight after release.

The only way that Netflix could lose grace with their fans would be to, say, I don’t know…? Allow them to see the catalogue of movies and shows available on much larger regions such as Canada and the US, and then to step up their attempts to block people from other regions gaining access to said content. That would just be foolish, right? Regardless of the quality of the product they’re putting out in the UK, for example, no matter how much better it is now than it was four years ago, it would be crazy to start telling people to pay the same amount of money for their subscription when clearly other countries have it better? The grass isn’t always greener on the other side, but when you’ve already spent the afternoon barbecuing at your neighbour’s garden picnic and come back home to your regular brown, patchy, dried-out lawn…

It remains to be seen how the long-term future of Netflix will pan out. However, already this year, the engrossing true-crime story, Making a Murderer, has become a huge phenomenon after its Christmas holiday release induced binge-watching hysteria around the world. Judd Apatow’s series, LOVE, has been an immediate success amongst fans and critics alike. With a new series of Daredevil imminent, plus more movies like the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon sequel starring Donnie Yen and Michelle Yeoh, as well as the fourth season of their most watched drama (formerly comedy), the multiple award-winning series Orange Is The New Black – not to mention the dozens of other original content on its way in 2016 – it certainly seems as though there’s a lot to look forward to for the customers who stick around once their DNS-changing service of choice is finally shut down.

Owen will be talking about his favourite Netflix Originals with Steve Norman, Phil Sharman and Chris Haigh on the podcast due out later this week.

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The Ridiculous 6

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A new two-hour long Netflix Original was released yesterday called The Ridiculous 6. It’s the second Netflix Original Film, after Beasts of No Nation, and the first of four (yes, four) productions by Adam Sandler for the online streaming service.

Set in the wild west, The Ridiculous 6 is a spoof of old fashioned westerns, taking its title from John Sturgess’s 1960 genre-defining classic The Magnificent Seven – well, duh – and is most likely also a pop at Quentin Tarantino’s forthcoming The Hateful Eight. Kind of like how the bastions of quality over at the Asylum try to copy other bigger budget, better films with their mockbuster titles.

In it, Sandler is joined by his usual posse of sycophantic chums, Rob Schneider, Luke Wilson, Taylor Lautner, Jorge Garcia and Terry Crews. One by one, they each discover that they all share the same dad (Nick Nolte) and heralded by the “Injun” raised Sandler, set out to steal enough money to pay a ransom to a bandit (Danny Trejo) to save their absent father’s life.

For the past few years, the branding ‘Netflix Original’ has been something of a mark of quality. Generally speaking. From some of their earlier productions like the award winning original dramas Orange Is The New Black and House of Cards, to more recent shows such as Better Call Saul and Daredevil, their label has been a signifier of some level of quality. Even when some of their more ambitious projects like Sense 8 have left me impressed but overwhelmed, I still kept faith in their ability to produce new and exciting material.

Although, with some of their more recent output like the smug-fest that was the God-awful joyless A Very Murray Christmas, my faith is being tested more often than I’d prefer it to be.

Back in October last year, it was announced that the first Netflix movie was in production. It seemed inevitable that they would be producing feature films sooner or later. Whilst we’re still waiting for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 2: Sword of Destiny to get up and stop hiding, somehow this piece of garbage wrangled its way into production and onto my YouView box.

I tried with the best will in the world to give it a chance on Friday afternoon. I managed to reach the 15 minute mark before holding my hands up in the air, declaring “nope”, and then switching it off. I couldn’t stand any more of it. I took a breather, watched a few episodes of the excellent Narcos, and then finished The Ridiculous 6 off afterwards, all so I could confidently state that it is without question the worst Adam Sandler film that I’ve had the misfortune to waste 120 minutes on.

It’s meant to be a spoof of westerns in general, particularly the stereotypes that those old movies often employed; yet I see it more as a spoof of Adam Sandler’s ability to keep getting huge wads of cash to make lowest common denominator, repetitive, unoriginal, schmalzy, unfunny, complete and utter fucking dog shit over and over again. Only, instead of a satire of Sandler’s monopoly on “buckets of turd” (an actual line from the film) made by a much funnier comedian, it’s actually not a spoof. It really is the 50 year old actor still pretending to be 13 years old.

It has every single Adam Sandler trademark that you can think of. There are: attractive women desperately trying to capture his attention (but he’s too cool for that, given his already very attractive fiancé); “hahaha he’s black ahaha and we’re white ahahahahaha”; sidelined female characters (and that’s stretching it calling them characters); an elderly person saying something along the lines of “ow that’s gotta hurt”; an animal and related dick / toilet humour, etc. I can’t think of a single “joke” that you might associate with an Adam Sandler film, that isn’t right here in the opening 15 minutes.

And who can blame him? How much money has this schtick made him and his production company, Happy Madison Productions? If you come at this from a business perspective, thinking of Adam Sandler as just some other guy who goes to work like everybody else and earns a living, then there really is no reason for him to change what he does given that there’s clearly a paying audience for this constant barrage of mindless twaddle.

What makes it more infuriating is that I can’t hate The Ridiculous 6 for being bad, because I actually thought it was well directed by Frank Coraci – to a certain degree. It’s a film that’s meant to be seen in 4k, a service that Netflix charges users more for, suggesting that they clearly see Adam Sandler as not only a draw for new customers, but also enticing existing subscribers to upgrade. Not me, I can do without seeing his smug unbothered face in ultra-high definition, thank you very much.

My point is that there clearly was a lot of effort put into making it look very snazzy. There are plenty of lovely individual shots of the old west, as well as nice sequences that give it a bit of a spaghetti western feeling, even though it was shot in New Mexico rather than the cheapest most expansive land in Italy or Spain. The costumes are also rather cool in their own way too, adding a bit of character to otherwise quite bland caricatures. I just get the impression that everybody working on The Ridiculous 6, from set designers to the well-stocked suppliers of push-up bras, they all seemed to want to do something good with this film.

That’s everyone except for Adam Sandler and his writing partner Tim Herlihy. I’m not suggesting they intended to make a bad film. Worse, I’m implying that they’re incapable of it. In an effort to put together a semi-cohesive story with a couple of call backs and set ups along the way, it appears as though they just decided to forgo writing clever, funny gags. Instead, I think they went straight to a local charity shop to spend 50p on a children’s joke book from the 1970’s.

At one point, a farting donkey sprays shit all over a wall for no apparent reason whatsoever except so that he can do it again later at a slightly more opportune time without it appearing to be too random. At another point in the plot, there’s a rock that looks like a giant phallus because LOL IT’S A ROCK THAT LOOKS LIKE A COCK, which impresses everyone with its size, except for Crews because he’s black lololol. Taylor Lautner plays a retard who laughs at every joke so you, the expectedly similarly retarded audience, also know when to laugh.

Which, in hindsight, is fair enough because I certainly didn’t know when to laugh.

It’s not even that the cast are unlikeable. I have a lot of time for Terry Crews. Brooklyn Nine-NineThe Expendables series, even White Chicks, he’s pretty damn funny in them. But here, he’s reduced to little more than token black guy who makes jokes only at the expense of his race. Jorge Garcia does fat-guy-falls-down. Schneider is a donkey-loving Mexican. Luke Wilson is Luke Wilson. It’s just thinly veiled attempts to satirise the pervasive stereotypes of old without having anything new to say about it. It mimics the offensiveness with neither subtlety nor impetus.

The less said about the controversial portrayal of native Americans, the better (although the whole “four out of 150 stormed out during production” seems to be something of a storm in a teacup.)

For a comedy, it is the biggest crock of shit that I’ve seen all year. The worst thing is, is that I knew it would be and yet I still wanted to give it a go because of that Netflix Original brand. With another three of these films to go, regardless of the quality of Beasts of No Nation, I’m beginning to think that maybe they should have just stuck to making original shows, steering clear of the movie business. Because if the poisonous Sandler infection spreads and Netflix ends up as a syphon for his bankroll (this fucking film cost $60-fucking-million to make) then I may have to reconsider my subscription.

But hey, if you’re looking for something to submit in your “worst 3 films of the year” category for the Failed Critics Awards, then why not give it a shot.