Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Straight Outta Luck, or The rules of availability

I don't know how we got to this point.

When I made a conscious decision to pass on Straight Outta Compton in the theaters, it was for two reasons: 1) I knew it was nearly two-and-a-half hours long, and couldn't figure out a good time to fit it in, and 2) I'd heard that although the first half was great, the second half becomes much more of a standard biopic, and straightforward musician biopics are something I strive to avoid.

But I also knew for certain that I'd watch it before my ranking deadline. Now, it looks like that may not happen.

Movies released on the 14th of August in the U.S. -- and only two weeks later in Australia -- always make it to video by the beginning of January. Always.

Well, not always.

Sure, I could buy Straight Outta Compton from iTunes now. But I won't be able to rent it until January 19th, and I won't be able to rent it from a Hoyts kiosk until Thursday, which is the day of my ranking deadline and is already overstuffed with three theatrical viewings of new movies that release that day. I even checked on our Fetch box, the thing that functions like pay-per-view for us, which we never otherwise use, to see if it had snuck on there early. But it had not.

So consider this my elongated explanation why the NWA movie won't be getting ranked this Thursday.

This seems like as good a time as any to discuss what I'm calling my "rules of availability." At this time of year, I'm always trying to figure out what movies I can get in time and what I can't. When the truth of the matter is, I can get all the movies, if I want to.

With the way people illegally torrent movies these days, it's worth asking why I still haven't crossed that line. It's only partly a moral stance. Without realizing it, I think I do protect filmmakers' rights to profit from their work. I don't really do the same for the makers of television, as we've illegally streamed seasons of Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones, though we didn't do that for this past season of Game of Thrones. In those instances, it's because I've worried that watching it in a timely fashion was the only way to ensure I preserved the enjoyment of watching -- otherwise, what happened in the shows would be spoiled before I had the chance to discover it through a legal viewing. (And in fact, when not illegally watching Game of Thrones last season, I did learn a major spoiler that surely will impact my eventual viewing of the season.) So it's been a cost-benefit analysis -- the cost to the makers of the content vs. the benefit to me to appreciate their art unspoiled.

But then there's also the virus factor. What caused us to ultimately stop streaming Game of Thrones was the sketchy websites we had to interact with, many of which forced us through ungainly layers of unwanted advertising, some of which would actually be characterized as porn. Even though our computers seem to have emerged unscathed -- as far as we know, anyway -- the awkwardness of seeing a version that actually worked properly was symbolic of our moral rot in stealing the content.

But then there's the fact that I just don't really know how to do it. There any number of people I could ask, who watch new movies on their computers all the time, and they're DVD quality. It's something they do so regularly that they no longer even think twice about it. I could ask them, and they'd tell me, but the actual act of asking draws attention to my moral opposition to the practice. I know it's probably no more difficult than typing something into Google like "Anomalisa full movie" and I'd be watching it five minutes from now. But then that gets us back to what sites to trust and what not to trust.

I think I'm just not cut out to be a pirate.

And even if I were, I'd surely be using those skills on the aforementioned Anomalisa or Spotlight, and not on Straight Outta Compton, which will be available legally only a few days from now.

So the rules of availability are basically thus:

1) Available in the theater.

2) Available to rent on DVD/BluRay (or borrow from the library).

3) Available to stream legally via Netflix or download a legal rental from iTunes.

4) Available through a screener copy. This is a different type of cheating, though it's one that has no consequence to my computer, and since I'm a critic anyway, I can justify any other moral qualms that way. Unfortunately, I don't know anyone who gets screeners in Australia.

5) Available through an advanced critic screening. That's how I was able to add Room, which doesn't come out until January 28th, to my 2015 list.

If I can't get it through one of these five methods, I have to give it a miss.

Of course, I could have gotten Straight Outta Compton through one of those methods, but at the time, I didn't know it would be my only method.

There. Was that elongated enough for you?

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