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Inside Streaming (Apr 21st, 2017)

Vanity Fair spoke with Bill Nye about his new Netflix series, "Bill Nye Saves the World," which debuts on the streaming platform today. "Saves the World" is a talk show (for grown-ups) designed to promote "science and critical thinking," blending roundtable discussions, comedy sketches and remote segments hosted by correspondents. First season episodes explore topics like climate change, artificial intelligence and "pseudo-science." The show's theme song - based on the classic "Bill Nye the Science Guy" intro - was created by Tyler, the Creator. – VF

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CBS All Access quietly added a small library of Paramount-owned films this week, including "Rosemary's Baby," "Up in the Air" and several "Star Trek" titles. Up until now, the service has focused on current and classic CBS programming, livestreams of local CBS stations and original shows like "The Good Fight" and the forthcoming new "Trek" series. According to experts and sources cited by Ad Week, it's likely that the addition is a simple way to add value for subscribers rather than a significant new strategy to expand CBS All Access content with streaming films. – ADWEEK

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HBO and media group Sky have announced a multi-year $250 million partnership. The deal will focus on producing "high-end drama" projects, along with a virtual reality documentary about fossils, presented by Sir David Attenborough. Though Sky and HBO have teamed for shows before (including this year's "Young Pope"), this will be the first time that they collaborate on a development level, with European and US producers pitching both companies together. About half of the current output of Sky Atlantic is already HBO content. – BBC

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Indian on-demand video platform Hotstar has passed 100 million downloads on the Google Play Store. The 2-year old Hotstar service is owned by Rupert Murdoch's Star TV. Though it offers a paid subscription service, Hotstar also hosts a variety of free content, so downloads do not necessarily equal paying customers. Much of the popularity of Hotstar appears driven by live streaming sports content: it's now estimated that more Indians watch English Premier League soccer on Hotstar than actual TV, and the platform launched around the ICC Cricket World Cup back in 2015. Hotstar subscriptions run about $3 per month and include 60-plus TV channels, as well as Fox, ABC and even HBO shows. By contrast, a month of Netflix in India runs about $7.73. – MASHABLE

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HBO will produce a film adaptation of the classic Ray Bradbury novel "Fahrenheit 451" starring Michael B. Jordan and Michael Shannon. Ramin Bahrani will direct from a script he's co-writing with Amir Naderi. Jordan will star as Montag, a "fireman" whose job is to burn books in a dark dystopian future, and Michael Shannon will portray his mentor, Beatty. HBO's film "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks," starring Oprah Winfrey and based on the non-fiction book by Rebecca Skloot, debuts this weekend. – VARIETY

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RECOMMENDED: "MST3K: THE RETURN" ON NETFLIX

I'm officially through half of the new "Mystery Science Theater" episodes on Netflix, and I'm pleased to report that, as a long-time fan, the new 11th season feels surprisingly of a piece with the classic material. Adding a few new cast members to a long running series is one thing, but entirely re-imagining a show - especially a show with such a specific sensibility and long-standing cult following - was a huge risk. Despite the continued presence of creator Joel Hodgson in a producer role (and the occasional on-screen cameo), it seemed entirely possible that these new "MST3K" episodes could simply miss the mark. Or even feel funny, but not feel quite RIGHT for the franchise.

Somehow, this didn't happen. Jonah Ray (as new human Jonah Heston) captures the same wide-eyed, up-for-anything zaniness of Joel and Mike Nelson, without making it seem cheesy or inauthentic. Hampton Yount is KILLING IT as the voice of Crow T. Robot - I think he sounds more like the original Trace Beaulieu-voiced version than Bill Corbett did in Seasons 8-10, and even Crow's absurd snarky personality has remained entirely intact. Baron Vaughn takes fellow robot Tom Servo in kind of a new direction. His Servo is less a haughty know-it-all than a kind of absurd dork. It takes an episode or two to get used to (along with the fact that Servo can now float around the the theater for visual gags while commenting on movies), but by Episode 3's "Time Travelers," I had stopped thinking about it entirely. 

Best of all, in a way that improves on classic MST3K (at least for me), the new lineup really does update the format for a new generation. Original episodes were written and voiced by people who grew up in the '60s and '70s, and their obscure references and perspectives came out of that era. I'd catch SOME of these jokes, but definitely not all of them, and on second viewings of most old-school episodes, I'd find myself Googling the random names and catch phrases popping up that I didn't recognize. But Season 11 is the product of writers and comedians almost exactly my same age. I'm catching nearly EVERYTHING they're throwing out there (I think) and it's delightful.

New "Mads" (the show's nickname for the evil mad scientists forcing Jonah to watch terrible movies) Felicia Day and Patton Oswalt are clearly fans of the show and having a blast stepping into this world. (Day, in particular, is really ACTING as the cruel Kinga Forrester, rather than just treating it as a comedy sketch. Her sincerity is a new twist, and I dug it.) As well, tapping digital stars and alt-comedy talent like Paul and Storm to write fun little parody songs - like this one about all the imaginary monsters threatening different countries around the world - was a clever little touch.

There's also some truly, bafflingly terrible films on the docket this season - some that almost shockingly weren't featured during the original run. 1987's "Cry Wilderness" features the future-predicting ghost of Bigfoot, and that's not even the film's main storyline! And honestly, the intensely cheesy 1978 "Star Wars" rip-off "Starcrash," which unironically features David Hasselhoff, is worth watching even without snarky robots in silhouette making constant zingers.

THE BASICS

Title: "Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return"
Where to Watch: Netflix
Episodes: 14 (1 season)
Running time: Episodes run 85-94 minutes each
Genre: Comedy/Parody

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REVIEW: "The BFG" ON NETFLIX

Steven Spielberg's adaptation of the Roald Dahl classic "The BFG" failed to strongly connect with audiences theatrically, which is kind of a shame, because the real place to experience Giant Country is the big screen. Now that the film's found its way to Netflix, it's worth seeking out if only for the visuals, which believably transport a human girl to a world occupied by stunningly lifelike animated titans (performed by actors using motion-capture). Sadly, the storytelling does not keep pace with the spectacle, and I sense that young children may quickly get bored by the film's groggy pace.

I think the biggest single issue with Melissa Mathison's adaptation of Dahl's book is that nearly everyone in the story lacks motivation. We mean precocious orphan Sophie (a wide-eyed and charming Ruby Barnhill), and then almost immediately, she's whisked away to Giant Country by the mysterious Big Friendly Giant (or BFG, played by Mark Rylance). Why does the BFG essentially kidnap her? Something about fearing that she will reveal his presence to the world, though it's not entirely clear, and ends up seeming pretty out of character for him, considering that in all other ways he's kindly and even meek. 

The bond formed quickly between the giant and his new captive/roommate should be the emotional core of the film, and the final sequence that Spielberg includes indicates that he's well aware of this, and yet we don't really get a lot of time here to develop their relationship. It's not the technology's fault at all - in fact, the way Spielberg frames shots to include both human-scale Sophie and giant-scale BFG is ceaselessly inventive, and kind of virtuoso when it comes to action sequences.

It's just that we don't know enough about these characters, or have a sense for their inner lives. They kind of do things they need to do in order to get Sophie where she needs to be for more storylines to kick in. And there many, many storylines! We find out that the BFG had traveled to the human world to retrieve people's dreams, which he collects and files away in jars in a large underground archive. (He calls this his "work," treating it like a job, but it really seems like a bit more of a creepy predilection, honestly.) We find that Giant Country is occupied by other giants who are much larger and more aggressive than BFG (they call him "Runt") and wish to eat Sophie. (The "leader" of the evil giants, Fleshlumpeater, is wonderfully played, also in mo-cap, by an unrecognizable Jemaine Clement from "Flight of the Conchords.") PLUS there's a loooooooooong sub-plot about getting help from Queen Elizabeth II (played by Penelope Wilton, who will be very recognizable to you "Downton Abbey" fans.)

Any of these threads (well, maybe except the one about the Queen) could've worked as the focus of a "BFG" film, I suppose. They all feature Dahl's signature mix of whimsy and dark humor. But they're all kind of colliding here, without interacting with one another, and all of them eventually prove distracting from the friendship between a little girl and a giant. The result is a movie that's beautiful to look at, and fun in fits and starts, but that never coheres into a satisfying whole. The last sequence is very sweet and sentimental in that classic Spielberg style, but not emotional.

THE BASICS

Title: "The BFG"
Where to Watch: Netflix
Running time: 117 minutes
Genre: Fantasy adventure

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