Crossing the Streams: January 2018, by Jim Rohner
Congratulations! With your recent purchase of a brand new Roku/Apple TV/Amazon Fire Stick you’re ready to – as Obi-Wan Kenobi said – take your first step into a larger world. That larger world is, of course, the world of cord cutting in which a seemingly endless supply of streaming apps, services, and content are available instantaneously at your fingertips. But with so many options of things to watch spread out across so many different services changing literally by the day, what’s worth binge watching before it expires and you’d have to – (GASP) – pay for it? Allow Crossing the Streams to be your official guide to what’s worth watching before it expires, what’s just been made available, and what’s just plain damn good.
Watch It Now
It’s January. It’s cold, bleak, and for those of us whose jobs don’t allow us to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day without using up a vacation day, the next abbreviated work week is far from here. Might as well watch some stuff, right? How about this stuff before it goes away?
Harry Potter (HBO Now): “But Jim,” you might be saying to yourself. “Exactly which of the 8 delightful Harry Potter titles are we to watch before they blow away into the bleak midwinter?” Well, here’s the kick in the frostbitten head: all of them. If you didn’t know that every Harry Potter film from The Sorcerer’s Stone to Deathly Hallows: Part 2 were available to stream on HBO, you do now with a little over two weeks to get through them all one last time before their streaming rights go the way of a certain Dark Lord. If you don’t own the films yet on one of the plethora of DVD/Blu-ray collections that exist – I saddled up probably too much money for this one years ago – then this might be one of your last chances for a while to binge watch the series from the precocious first year in Chamber of Secrets to the tonal shift in Order of the Phoenix to the thrilling road movie Deathly Hallows: Part 1 that signaled the beginning of the end. The success of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and the excited whispers at an adaptation of The Cursed Child show that the world is still hungry for more tales of witches, wizards, and muggles (or – ugh – nomajes) and there’s been no cinematic series that has better reflected the evolution and growth of its audience like Harry Potter. All 8 films disappear like so many invisibility cloaks on January 31st.
Amélie (Hulu): According to the American Society of Cinematographers, there was no film shot more beautifully in the decade between 1998 and 2008 than Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amélie. Jeunet’s name is not one that you hear dropped very often these days but with the trifecta of Delicatessen, The City of Lost Children, and Amélie, he could never work again and his legacy as writer/director would be firmly cemented (Micmacs is a fun little yarn as well). Nominated for five Oscars and currently ranked as the 82nd best film of all time on IMDb (for what that’s worth), Amélie is basically the cinematic manifestation of the word charming, focusing on the titular protagonist’s (Audrey Tautou) quest to improve the lives of those around her. Were it not for the fantastic and fantastical direction of Jeunet and the acting of Tautou, the character and film might come off as unbearably quirky and frustratingly naïve. What results, however, is a film so emotionally and aesthetically beautiful that I think I just talked myself into buying it on Blu-ray. According to Amazon, the disc should arrive before the streaming rights expire on January 31st.
Catch Me If You Can (HBO Now): With sporadic exceptions (Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, The Adventures of Tintin, The BFG), Steven Spielberg’s oeuvre has shifted into an emotional and aesthetic palette of desaturation and shades ever since War of the Worlds in 2005. Sure, there was Saving Private Ryan, Minority Report and Schindler’s List before that, but those used to be exceptions rather than the rule and ever since aliens came to earth and brought with them the emotional and visual allusions to 9/11, the weight of Spielberg’s oeuvre has become heavy and longtime DP Janusz Kaminski’s aesthetic has reflected that. That absolutely is not to say that the Spielberg of the last decade has not been thrilling, provocative, or optimistic, but he also hasn’t necessarily been fun. Not Catch Me If You Can fun, at least. The tale of check forger Frank William Abagnale Jr. (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his pursuit by lonely FBI agent Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks) spends as much time engaging in the thrill of the chase as it does on weaving a rich tapestry of those involved in it. Briskly paced and smartly written, Catch Me If You Can is probably one of the best films amongst Spielberg’s minor titles, saying more positively about the man’s talent than it says anything negatively about the film. Catch it while you can since it expires January 31st.
Other Notable Titles Expiring:
Amazon Prime: The Duchess (1/29), The Machinist (1/30)
HBO Now: Adaptation (1/31), Frost/Nixon (1/31), Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1/31), Scarface (1/31), Sully (1/31), Tender Mercies (1/31), The Ring (1/31)
Hulu: Jacob’s Ladder (1/31), Philadelphia (1/31), Shaolin Soccer (1/31)
Watch It Later
All of the titles mentioned in this section have either just been made available, will be available soon, or their rights have recently been renewed. Either way, they’re not going anywhere anytime soon, which is good, because I’m sure you’re not getting up off that couch anytime soon either. Why risk frostbite when you can, you know, not do that?
Batman Begins (Netflix): Christopher Nolan has an outside chance of Oscar gold this year with Dunkirk, a story about British forces during World War II shot on 70mm and told non-chronologically. The freedom he had to direct this spectacle comes from a long stream of financial successes on visually epic and ambitious films, with Batman Begins arguably being the first that allowed him to flex his muscles. The Dark Knight rightfully gets most of the attention of Nolan’s Batman films, followed closely by The Dark Knight Rises due, unfortunately, to the massive weight of anticipation, leaving the wonderfully made and confident Batman Begins as the black sheep of the family (quite a strange situation for the genesis of a franchise to be in). Detractors of superhero films could point to Nolan and Batman Begins as the progenitors of the gritty, realistic cinematic superhero movement, but those people fail to take into account that if there were any superhero to whom such a treatment should be applied, it was the one who was just a man (albeit it one with lots of money and a history of psychological trauma). Batman Begins began streaming on Netflix on January 1st.
The Godfather Trilogy (Netflix): It was a slow day at work the other day when my boss decided to throw on The Godfather for background noise. “You know, I never saw any of these until after I graduated college and never since then,” I said. The subconscious thought, I suppose, was that they deserved more attention than I had given them, but certainly a random workday was neither the time nor the place. I mean, these legendary films deserve to be given full attention and engagement and if that were to happen, how could I possibly work? Well, needless to say, hours later I’m sitting on a couch away from my desk with a beer in my hand watching Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) kiss his brother Fredo (John Cazale) at a New Year’s party and utter the iconic “I know it was you. You broke my heart.” These films (the first two, anyway) engaged me, captured me, demanded that I forsake everything else and watch them because they deserve nothing less. Much has already been written about Part II specifically so I won’t waste many more words but there have been few films in my life that I have watched and thought, “Not even the hype prepared me for how phenomenal that film was.” I’m ashamed it took me so long to get back to them, but they’ll be there waiting for me again since they started streaming on January 1st.
A Ghost Story (Amazon Prime): Minor spoilers but I’ll be writing more about A Ghost Story once my Top Ten of 2017 gets published on Battleship Pretension (though how high up the list will be kept a surprise until then). I didn’t expect to love Dave Lowery’s ambitious yet intimate drama as much as I do now, describing it to friends as “esoteric” after seeing it and answering the “did you like it?” inquiry with a truly accurate, “I don’t know.” It took some time to grow on me, but now I truly do love the meditation on loss, love, and the enormity of time that Lowery has attempted to craft through the lens of two lovers, one of whom (Casey Affleck) dies only to return as a sheet-wearing specter to observe the past, present, and future of the who’s and what’s he once called home. Critics may call it navel-gazing and a short film premise with no plot stretched out far too long and while I understand those complaints (the pie scene is a bit much), I certainly don’t agree. A Ghost Story casts a wide net in a very short – and relatively quiet – amount of time. You might get caught in it, you might not, but it’s been there since January 7th to let you decide.
Punch-Drunk Love (Hulu): Having just described Phantom Thread as “not my cup of tea” to a friend, I think it’s safe for me to say that Paul Thomas Anderson is hit or miss for me. That’s not to say that I think he’s an overrated director by any means – I am always in the mood to watch either Magnolia or There Will Be Blood – but his catalog is mostly populated by titles that, for some reason, I’m either not in a rush to re-watch (The Master, Boogie Nights), or just didn’t connect with (Phantom Thread, Punch-Drunk Love). So why do I include Punch-Drunk Love here? Because I recognize that I’m likely the minority voice when it comes to the opinions about what has been called his most accessible film and a romantic comedy unlike any other. I bear a grudge against Punch-Drunk Love because it got the ball rolling on the whole “let’s take Adam Sandler seriously” conversation that, with the recently released The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), we just keep having, bringing further relevance to an actor who I’d like to see ship off to the pasture of irrelevance. But once again, I’m sure you probably disagree with me, and thus, you’ll be happy to know that it’s been available since January 8th.
Other Notable Titles Arriving:
Amazon Prime: All Is Lost (1/1), Capote (1/1), Doctor Who Season 10 (1/1), Reservoir Dogs (1/1), Zodiac (1/1), Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams (1/12), Wonderstruck (1/12)
HBO Now: (500) Days of Summer (1/1), Back to the Future I – III (1/1), The Informant! (1/1), Role Models (1/1), Three Kings (1/1), David Bowie: The Last Five Years (1/8), The Fate of the Furious (1/13), Crashing Season 2 Premiere (1/13),
Hulu: The X-Files Season 11 Premiere (1/4), The Good Place Midseason 2 Premiere (1/5), Bob’s Burgers Season Midseason 8 Premiere (1/8), This Is Us Midseason 2 Premiere (1/10), The Path Season 3 Premiere (1/17), Reservoir Dogs (1/1), Total Recall (1/1), Zodiac (1/1), Meek’s Cutoff (1/15), We Need to Talk About Kevin (1/15), Ingrid Goes West (1/22)
Netflix: Apollo 13 (1/1), Batman – Batman & Robin (1/1), The Exorcism of Emily Rose (1/1), Marie Antoinette (1/1), The Shawshank Redemption (1/1), The Truman Show (1/1), Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (1/2), Before I Wake (1/5), The Conjuring (1/8), Dallas Buyers Club (1/16)
Just Watch It
Somewhere in between the titles that are expiring and the titles that have just entered this world lay those that we’ve either taken for granted, forgotten about, or just plain didn’t realize we could watch for free. Let’s fix that because they’re damn good and they’re waiting for you.
Mudbound (Netflix): At the risk of spoiling too much of my Top Ten of 2017, let me say that Mudbound will also be making an appearance. Mudbound has been rounding up its fair share of nominations, including many for cinematographer Rachel Morrison, the first woman nominated by the American Society of Cinematographers and whom New York Film Critics Circle deemed the best, but it’s likely that the still largely old, white, and stuffy voting body of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences will scoff at the film that was released theatrically and on Netflix simultaneously as they did with last year’s Beasts of No Nation. The lack of theatrical presence shouldn’t say anything about a film’s quality, especially when it comes to Mudbound, which looks to the post-WWII past to speak on today’s climate of race relations. A film with so much voiceover narration shouldn’t work as well as this one does but rather than distract or splinter the narrative, it, as the AV Club’s A.A. Dowd describes, “decentraliz[es] the drama to create a spectrum of perspectives.” That aforementioned spectrum is growing increasingly important in today’s political climate and even if there’s a long way to go before Netflix becomes a heavyweight with feature-length narrative releases, Mudbound signals a bright future.
Casting JonBenet (Netflix): I wasn’t even aware of this film’s existence until my friend Gavin Mevius of The Mixed Reviews podcast compiled his annual Top Ten films of the year video. Quite high in his ranking was Casting JonBenet, a documentary that I just assumed was another true crime doc about a two decades-old murder that captivated the public consciousness. But I was wrong. Instead, what director Kitty Green has attempted to do with Casting JonBenet is explore the unsettling legacy that the case has left on local residents and speculate on why it was so captivating to us. Rather than interview expert witnesses to achieve this goal, Green stages a fake re-dramatization of the crime and interviews actors aspiring for roles of the key players. By taking this approach, Green doesn’t bring us the salacious details and speculation of what could have led to the murder, but instead motions towards revealing how the cloud it cast over the community is still linger over 20 years later.
Justified (Amazon Prime): I’m an older Millennial, which means that rather than explore new films and shows I’ve never seen before, I’ll just re-watch the stuff I love over and over again until I’ve robbed it of all its meaning. The stone from which I’m currently trying to squeeze more blood is Graham Yost’s Justified, a show that’s similar to The Wire in how it shifts its focus every season to how a new or different element of crime is eating away at one overlooked piece of American geography, but dissimilar to The Wire in how much fun it is. Quippy, smart, and quite often sexy (mostly thanks to U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens as played by Timothy Olyphant), Justified depicts Harlan County as a modern day Wild West (Givens is rarely seen without a cowboy hat) but rarely looks condescendingly on the locals who have been forced to make organized crime and the drug trade their occupations in order to survive. The specter of Barbara Kopple’s Harlan County U.S.A. hangs over the series, which primarily takes place in and around the county that economically collapsed with the death of the coal industry. Characters both minor and major, law enforcement and criminal, are scripted with an eloquence and outlook that brings a Shakespearian element to “Hillbilly country” in the same vein of what David Milch brought to the western territories in Deadwood.
Gently Down the Stream…
If you’ve been reading this blog regularly, then you’ve already picked up on the fact it’s published mid-month. This is primarily done for the purposes of time; mainly how much I don’t have of it and how much of it I take to do research and compile the plethora of titles and the platforms on which they stream for me to write about here. Often, however, many titles expire before the blog is published and even before I sit down to write it, meaning that a whole host of great content is lost before you even click. In light of that, here’s a brief recap of the titles that have expired before the publishing of the last “Crossing the Streams” entry and this one. Just like characters in comic books though, streaming titles never truly die; they just reappear at later dates in venues that don’t make as much sense, so stay tuned!
Netflix: Lost (1/1), The Addams Family (1/1), The Day the Earth Stood Still 1951 (1/1), E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1/1), Forrest Gump (1/1), Gremlins (1/1), Pulp Fiction (1/1), Requiem for a Dream (1/1), Saw I – Saw: The Final Chapter (1/1), Fantasia (1/5), The Host (1/5)
Amazon Prime: Akira (Original Japanese Version) (1/14)