Crossing the Streams: April 2017, by Jim Rohner

14 Apr

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 chord 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

Well, by now we learned that there was no last-minute stay of execution for titles like The X-Files or Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Firefly or Angel or…well, you get the picture – the universe is a cruel and uncaring place and eventually we’ll all die and long after our bodies have decayed and disintegrated into nothing, entropy will overtake all of existence and destroy what we know of reality. On the plus side, the ratio of quality content arriving vs. expiring in April is heavily tilted towards giving you more reasons to stay in rather than go outside and enjoy the budding spring season. Still, say goodbye to these…

Batman: The Animated Series (Amazon Prime): If you’re anything like me, then it wasn’t Adam West’s goofy frolicking that first exposed you to The Dark Knight but rather the Emmy-winning animated series co-created by Bruce Timm and Paul Dini. On top of introducing us to Kevin Conroy, who to this day is still the fan consensus voice of Batman, Batman: The Animated Series also introduced a younger audience to the psychological and moral complexities of the Caped Crusader with a complementary blending of film-noir and art deco visual influences and emotionally mature storylines. The show would win an Emmy for the season 1 episode “Robin’s Reckoning: Part 1,” but it was “Heart of Ice,” arguably the greatest exploration of the Mr. Freeze character, that set the tone for what to expect from the show. The show was a springboard for the character of Harley Quinn, who was the exclusive creation of Paul Dini, who would be a creative driving force behind the Arkham video games, and Mark Hamill, who, yes, was already Luke Skywalker but who also reinvented himself by voicing the iconic Joker. This column will hopefully be a springboard for you to revisit the show as it’s set to expire on April 28th.

Good Will Hunting (Amazon Prime): Critics of Good Will Hunting will often say that it’s a clichéd indie drama or that its success as a screenplay should be attributed to the uncredited work of legendary screenwriter William Goldman rather than the Oscar-winning duo of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck but when I’m watching Robin Williams and Matt Damon crack up over an improvised story about a farting wife, I’m not concerned about where it came from; I’m too lost in the powerhouse performance of Williams and the chemistry he shares with Damon.  Sure, without the success of Good Will Hunting we probably don’t get the ill-advised shot-for-shot remake of Psycho, but then we also probably don’t get Gerry or Milk or the careers of both Damon and Ben Affleck (for better or worse). Most importantly, we don’t get another series of indelible memories of Robin Williams, a truly talented artist who left this world too soon. It’s when watching Good Will Hunting that I lament knowing we’ll never again see any new work from Williams, but it also makes me thankful that he gave us this Oscar-winning performance. Don’t let the memory fade before the streaming rights do on April 29th.

Sabrina (1954) (Amazon Prime): Sabrina may be considered by many to be one of the more light-hearted or saccharine titles in Billy Wilder’s catalog – especially considering the three titles that preceded it (Sunset Boulevard, Ace in the Hole, Stalag 17) – but that doesn’t mean that it’s any less enjoyable or contains any less of Wilder’s trademark cynicism and bite. The focus of Wilder’s cynicism focuses on the emotional and professional entanglements brought about by the love triangle between charismatic stars William Holden, the idle playboy, Audrey Hepburn, the chauffer’s daughter who falls for him, and Humphrey Bogart, the level headed one. The film questions how far one is willing to go to change for someone else and was remade in 1995 with Harrison Ford and Greg Kinnear and somebody else who I can’t name because nobody cared nor should care because it wasn’t nearly as good. But you should care about this one because it expires on April 29th.

Other Notable Titles Expiring: Bob’s Burgers Season 1 (Netflix, April 16), A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (Netflix, April 20), Scrubs (Netflix, May 1), Major League (Amazon Prime, April 30), The Running Man (Amazon Prime/Hulu, April 30)

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. Deep breath on this one because there’s A LOT worth mentioning including (but not limited to)…

Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return (Netflix): I’ve been burning through the twenty new episodes of MST3k that Netflix provided last month for two reasons: 1) I was jonesing for my fix of witty movie banter courtesy of Crow T. Robot, Tom Servo, and Joel and/or Mike, and 2) I was preparing for April 14th when the reboot of one of my favorite shows of all time returns. Rather than having to rely on secondhand VHS tapes recorded off of Comedy Central, this time I’ll be able to indulge in the crew of the Satellite of Love skewering old, terrible movies courtesy of Netflix. Creator Joel Hodgson is the only original crew member back on board but the reboot has been supplemented by new talent like cast members Jonah Ray, Patton Oswalt, and Felicia Day and writers like Community’s Dan Harmon.

Kubo and the Two Strings (Netflix): Admittedly, I did not see Kubo and the Two Strings last year. When it comes to submissions for the annual BP Awards, animated and foreign features are always the two areas where my viewing is regrettably lacking. This year those regrets were extra regrettable because of how gushingly everyone talked about Kubo. The fourth stop-motion feature film from Laika (the studio that brought us Coraline, ParaNorman, and The Boxtrolls) was its most critically acclaimed (97% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes) yet least seen ($74.5MM gross on a $60MM budget). You can at least do something about the latter half of that statement since it’s been available to stream on Netflix since April 8th.

The Handmaiden (Amazon Prime): Many people love Park Chan-Wook. I am not one of them. However, even I was entranced by The Handmaiden, which somehow seamlessly blends eroticism, comedy, period piece drama, and heist movie together into a wonderful concoction that somehow was completely overlooked by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (I’d like to think that we redeemed it a bit with its BP win). Supplementing a screenplay that defies easy categorization is gorgeous costume design by Sang-geyong Jo and breathtaking cinematography from Chung-hoon Chung, both of which can be enjoyed for the foreseeable future as of April 13th.

 American Honey (Amazon Prime): Many people also love Andrea Arnold. I do happen to be one of them; Red Road is emotionally devastating, Fish Tank is a legitimate masterpiece, and Wuthering Heights is oddly admirable in how dirty and miserable of a viewing experience it is. American Honey may be my least favorite Arnold film thanks in part to how it meanders in both narrative and runtime (probably admittedly fitting for a road movie), but her trademark sympathy for the American underclass is still poetic and her ability to coax great performances from non-professional actors shines through with Sasha Lane and her van compatriots. A rat-tailed Shia Lebouf also was criminally underappreciated this awards season. Find love in a hopeless place beginning April 27th.

 Preacher Season 1 (Hulu): I’m not sure what to make of Preacher after its first season. Co-created by the generally reliable Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg and Breaking Bad’s Sam Catlin, the show wasn’t quite able to strike a consistently successful balance between black comedy and emotional profundity. But with standout performances from Ruth Negga (Tulip) and Jackie Earle Haley (Odin Quincannon) specifically and truly exceptional moments like the fight that opens “Sundowner,” perhaps the show just needs a little time to find its legs before it’ll blow us all away. On the other hand, I also wouldn’t be surprised if the hilariously blasphemous and insightfully heretical material from Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon just doesn’t translate to cable TV and the show implodes. It’s been available since April 5th so feel free to watch and disagree with me.

The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu): In the interest of full disclosure, I can’t speak on this property at all – I never read the book by Margaret Atwood and I haven’t even watched the trailer for the show. But I know that the first three episodes (premiering all at once on April 26th) were all directed and shot by Meadowland’s Reed Morano and that the contemporarily relevant show about a dystopian future is already getting glowing reviews so I don’t feel bad recommending it sight unseen.

Other Notable Titles Arriving: RoboCop (Amazon Prime/Hulu, April 1), There Will Be Blood (Amazon Prime, April 1), Election (Amazon Prime, April 1), The Love Witch (Amazon Prime, April 14), 1958’s The Blob (Shudder, April 1), Schindler’s List (Netflix, April 1), Tropic Thunder (Netflix, April 1), Gremlins (Netflix, April 1), Louie C.K. 2017 (Netflix, April 4), Eddie Murphy Raw (Hulu, April 1), Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (Hulu, April 1), JFK (Hulu, April 1), Serpico (Hulu, April 1), Shaun of the Dead (Hulu w/ subscription to Showtime, April 1)

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 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.

Rev. (Hulu): We’re in the home stretch of Holy Week so I figured it would be appropriate to recommend something with a spiritual slant. That doesn’t mean, however, that you have to be a believer of the Christian faith – or of any faith, really – to appreciate Rev., a British comedy series co-created by and starring Tom Hollander as a put-upon Anglican priest trying to help a struggling, historic London church succeed after being transferred over from his sleepy, rural parish. Sure, Rev. may be one of the best depictions of struggling with doubt and faith in the modern world, but it also speaks to larger themes like harmony and cooperation across cultures and creeds in a diverse urban landscape, supplemented by dry British wit and guest appearances from the likes of Ralph Fiennes and Richard E. Grant.

John Mulaney New in Town (Netflix): It seems like Netflix is adding standup specials – both old and exclusive – on a daily basis so it’s understandable to be overwhelmed by what’s worth your time and easy for the truly great specials to get lost in the shuffle. John Mulaney New in Town is one of the truly great specials. How great is it? I’ve watched New in Town FOUR TIMES and it still cracks me up (bits about Delta Airlines and being made fun of by eight-year olds have been worked into my everyday life). I’ve listened to a fair amount of comedy podcasts and interviews in my times and one recurring comment I keep hearing is how even the best comedians admire John Mulaney (which might be surprising to anyone who tuned into his short-lived Fox sitcom).

Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles (Amazon Prime): There are around 3 Toynbee Tiles within walking distance of my office. I walk directly over one at least once a day going home after work. What are Toynbee Tiles, you may ask? They’re tiles/plaques about the size of a license plate that are physically embedded in the asphalt of streets all around the world (though primarily found in the U.S.) bearing this cryptic message:

TOYNBEE IDEA

IN MOViE ‘2001

RESURRECT DEAD

ON PLANET JUPITER

 What does this mean? Who created them? What is this person hoping to achieve by spreading them? How has no one ever witnessed one being placed? Justin Duerr has asked all the same questions and has been obsessed with trying to answer them for years. Resurrect Dead, directed by Jon Foy, follows Justin on his quest in a truly fascinating and delightfully irreverent documentary exploring a mystery that may not have high stakes, but which adds to the eccentric stories that give life flavor.

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