AT this point in its evolution streaming video can still feel like your neighborhood VHS rental shop, circa 1985.
The shelves of the two leading services, Netflix Instant and Hulu Plus, seem to be full of films you’ve never heard of, arranged in no particular order. The latest hits haven’t arrived yet, and there’s no one around to help you out except for the digital equivalent of the surly, underpaid clerk: those “recommended for you” algorithms that pretend to know your taste but come up with the oddest suggestions imaginable. Why does Netflix keep insisting that I need to see “Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew”? Is it trying to tell me something?
But where there is chaos, there is also opportunity. Both Netflix and Hulu are full of hidden gems, but often it’s not easy to dig them out. Somewhere on Netflix, between Ashley Tisdale in “Sharpay’s Fabulous Adventure” and Christopher Walken and Jennifer Beals in “The Prophecy II,” there’s a very good copy of Edgar G. Ulmer’s 1948 film noir “Ruthless” in its full 105-minute version, rather than the 88-minute public domain cut that’s been the only edition available for years. To find it, though, you have to know it’s there.
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