Crossing the Streams: August 2017, 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
So I’m assuming by now that we’ve all heard that Mickey Mouse is taking his ball and going home, with “ball” here meaning “the streaming rights to all Disney content” and “going home” meaning “to Disney’s own exclusive streaming platform.” Yes, we all rejoiced when we heard that Netflix was going to be the exclusive home to Disney streaming content and now we must all mourn at the abrupt about face. Further heartbreak may be on the horizon as the rights to the Marvel and Star Wars titles have not yet been decided, but on the plus side, the mass mouse exodus won’t be taking effect until 2019. That’s a lot more time that you’ll get with your Disney titles than you will with the follow titles set to expire much sooner…
The Nice Guys (HBO Now): The Nice Guys didn’t end up making my Top Ten of last year, but that didn’t seem like it would be the case for the first eight or nine months of the year and, in retrospect, I’m wondering if I made the right decision keeping it off. A huge fan of Shane Black’s directorial debut, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, I perhaps set the bar a bit too high for The Nice Guys, a thought that started occurring to me after watching it for a second time and realizing that I was responding to it much more positively than I did the first time around. Black returns – hilariously – to the world of Los Angeles neo-noir with a film that could be a spiritual sequel to Kiss Kiss Bang Bang in the vein of Scorsese’s Goodfellas and Casino. This time it’s Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe who are uncovering corruption in the City of Angels, but hopefully this time one doesn’t become an untouchable studio superhero. The Nice Guys expires on August 31st.
The League Seasons 1 – 7 (Netflix): People seemed pretty eager to forget about The League once everybody found out that Stephen Rannazzisi was full of shit but when the show was on, it was a prime example of the audacity of FX – committing seven seasons to a show about despicable people where basically every episode was almost entirely improvised. The show was loosely built around the story of a group of friends who compete against each other in a fantasy football league but was really just an excuse for a group of talented comedians and improvisers – Mark Duplass, Paul Scheer, Nick Kroll, et. al. – to make fun of each other in escalatingly creative and horrific ways. In addition to its main cast, it also attracted talented guest comedians like Rob Huebel, Aziz Ansari, Rob Riggle, Seth Rogen and – my personal favorite – Jason Mantzoukas, whose recurring character of Rafi has basically been resurrected on Brooklyn Nine-Nine as Adrian Pimento. All 7 seasons of The League will be expiring on August 30th.
American Beauty (Amazon Prime): I’ve had a roller coaster relationship with Sam Mendes’s Oscar-winning drama (and, according to IMDB, the 63rd best film of all time). When I first saw it, I thought that it was absolute pretentious garbage, the plastic bag scene being most indicative of an arrogant high-mindedness that was almost comical in how esoteric it was. A few years later, I thought it was one of the most brilliant films I’d ever seen in how it effectively skewered the close-mindedness of suburban living. These days I’m somewhere in between – loving certain elements about it and still thinking that the plastic bag scene is complete bullshit. It’s perhaps a bit on the nose for my taste these days, but does feature absolute stellar performances from Kevin Spacey, Annette Benning, and Wes Bentley supplemented by the gorgeous cinematography of legendary DP Conrad Hall, who turned his pair of Oscars into a trio with this film. There’s so much beauty in the world, but this beauty will eventually fade when the expiration date of August 31st acts as Chris Cooper’s gun to Amazon Prime’s head.
Other Notable Titles Expiring: Revenge Seasons 1 – 4 (Netflix, August 28), Foot Fist Way (Hulu, August 31), Airheads (HBO Now, August 31), Broadcast News (HBO Now, August 31), Mystic River (HBO Now, August 31), Rain Man (HBO Now, August 31), Rushmore (HBO Now, August 31), Blue Ruin (Amazon Prime, August 24), Gone Baby Gone (Amazon Prime, August 30), The Proposition (Amazon Prime, August 30), Blow Out (Amazon Prime, August 31), City of God (Amazon Prime, August 31), Killer Klowns from Outer Space (Amazon Prime, August 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, unlike Toy Story and Frozen and…well, basically every Disney title you or your kids ever loved.
Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later: Season 1 (Netflix): I remember when I first saw Wet Hot American Summer. I was in high school browsing the aisles of Hollywood Video (remember those?) and rented the ensemble comedy based on factors that have long since escaped me. I took it home, watched it by myself, and remember very clearly to this day my initial reaction: “what the hell did I just watch?” You see, as a teenager I was not prepared for Michael Showalter and David Wain’s particular style of comedy (still considering myself an Adam Sandler fan at that point), nor was I familiar with most of the names in the ensemble that have since become comedy royalty: Amy Poehler, Paul Rudd, Showalter, Ken Marino, Joe Lo Truglio…well, you know the rest. I can’t speak at all to Ten Years Later having not yet seen a minute of it, but seeing as I voraciously consumed First Day of Camp, I’m a bit ashamed of myself for having not yet begun Ten Years Later seeing as it’s been available since August 4th.
Funny Games (US) (Netflix): I’m sure that Michael Haneke has been accused of many things in his life but I’m equally positive that making films that are too saccharine has never been among those accusations. It might sound like an exaggeration seeing as I’m saying this about the guy that’s made Cache, Amour, and The White Ribbon, but Funny Games may be the most unpleasant and unsettling film of his that I’ve ever seen. And I love it. A shot for shot remake of his Austrian film from 1997, the American version of Funny Games is a brutal examination not of the horror genre per se, but of the pleasure that we derive from indulging in such depictions of brutality. The film stars Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, Michael Pitt, and Brady Corbet in powerful but disturbing performances and was produced by the same company that produced Transamerica and Stake Land. It’s been available on Netflix since August 1st if you’re feeling particularly masochistic. Be warned: there is no happy ending.
Difficult People Season 3 (Hulu): Full disclosure: I can’t speak at all to the third or even the second season of Difficult People as I only recently began watching the first. However, without having even completed it yet, I have absolutely no qualms with recommending the show based on what I’ve already seen. Created by Julie Klausner and starring her and Billy Eichner, Difficult People follows two 30-something New York comedians who are superfluously bitter on an account of all their friends having moved onto bigger and better things in the entertainment industry. There are no shortage of comedies that follow generally unliked and unlikable characters – Seinfeld, The League, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and, to a certain extent, 30 Rock – but Difficult People finds its own niche by turning its satirical and critical gaze to the entertainment industry, a sphere of influence that, in the day of brand influencers and YouTube stars and live Tweets and countless recap blogs, just about everyone is affected by and has an opinion of. The jokes are hilarious (seek out the episode “Pledge Week” for its PBS Roast segment) and every episode features a guest appearance from an amazing comedian like Kate McKinnon, Fred Armisen, Martin Short, or John Mulaney. Season 3 has been exclusive on Hulu since August 8th.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (HBO Now): After David Yates wrapped up his time on Harry Potter with Deathly Hallows: Part 2 in 2011, his name was attached to a few different projects (including a remake of The Stand that I’d still love to see) until he eventually settled on The Legend of Tarzan, which landed with a resounding thud for both critics and audiences. Perhaps it was to reclaim former glory or perhaps his heart had never really left the world that Rowling created but either way, he returned to the world of wizards and Muggles – excuse me, Nomaj – with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a prequel that took place decades before the events depicted in Harry Potter and in the good ol’ U.S. of A. Sure, it wasn’t nearly as charming as any of the Harry Potter films and the universe and rules felt half-baked in comparison to the European wizarding world, but Eddie Redmayne is absolutely delightful as Newt Scamander and Yates again proves that he has a fabulous eye, here trusting DP Philippe Rousselot (Big Fish, Constantine) to bring the fantasy to life. You’ve been able to find these fantastic beasts on HBO Now since August 12th.
Other Notable Titles Arriving: Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (Hulu, August 1), Clerks (Hulu, August 1), Cloverfield (Hulu, August 1), Coffee and Cigarettes (Hulu, August 1), Robocop (August 1, Hulu), Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (Hulu, August 12), Superbad (Amazon Prime, August 4), The Tick: Season 1 (Amazon Prime, August 25), Cloud Atlas (Netflix, August 1), Jackie Brown (Netflix, August 1), The Addams Family (Netflix, August 1), The Matrix/Reloaded/Revolutions (Netflix, August 1), Marvel’s The Defenders: Season 1 (Netflix, August 18), The Strangers (HBO Now, August 1), Frost/Nixon (HBO Now, August 1), Nocturnal Animals (HBO Now, August 19), Jackie (HBO Now, August 26)
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.
The Defiant Ones (HBO Now): I hope that O.J.: Made in America kick-started something because I’m really digging these multi-part documentaries that explore significant cultural shifts in the American landscape. This four-part documentary directed by Allen Hughes (Menace II Society, The Book of Eli) focuses on the careers of music producer Jimmy Iovine and rapper Dr. Dre and the paths they paved on the way to power and influence that would eventually merge and culminate with the creation and sale of the Beats by Dre brand to the tune of $3 billion. Though their upbringings couldn’t have been more different – Iovine, the son of an Italian-American longshoreman from Brooklyn and Dre, the African-American growing up in Compton who discovered a love of music through turntables – their rise to prominence and influence are equally enthralling and their influence far-reaching. Even I, a Caucasian suburban kid, knew who Dr. Dre was and the artists that rose to prominence (Snoop Dogg, Eminem) thanks to the paths he paved and I guarantee that even if you’ve never heard the name Jimmy Iovine before, the music that he’s either produced (Patti Smith’s “Because the Night”) or mixed (Springsteen’s “Born to Run”) has touched you in some way.
Dumb: The Story of Big Brother Magazine (Hulu): Chances are that you’ve never heard of Big Brother Magazine but I guarantee that you’ve heard of some of its alumni: Johnny Knoxville, Bam Margera, Chris Pontius, Steve-O. Yes, for good or for ill, we have Big Brother Magazine to thank for the Jackass show and movies, the idea having been pitched by former Big Brother editor Jeff Tremaine as a logical extension of the unbridled insanity for which the magazine had already made its name. While Dre and his compatriots were thrusting the middle finger at authority in Compton, a loose amalgamation of white suburban skateboarders were congealing their own countercultural movement by forming Big Brother Magazine, a publication whose dark humor and deep dives into a little respected subculture would influence Vice co-founder Gavin McInnes and Jonah Hill and give the first real work to a young photographer and video artist by the name of Spike Jonze. The Hulu exclusive documentary recounts the rise of the publication up through its legal battles and ultimate purchase by Larry Flynt and its eventual canceling after its most famous names depart to create Jackass.
Inglourious Basterds (Netflix): We have a lot of fun and games around here but we’d be remiss not to acknowledge that there’s a lot of bad shit going on in this world; bad shit that has to do with Nazis. Many of us might be hurt, angry, confused, and sad, seeking answers for how people can think the way they do and what we can do about it. I’m sorry to say that I don’t have the answers, but I’m confident that I can say that the loudest and most violent voices out there are not the voice of consensus and we need look no further than art to see that those with compassion, intelligence, and creativity have taken any and all opportunities to speak out against hatred and bigotry and to decry the historical and societal atrocities that have led to so much suffering. Sometimes, such as in Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, art has even employed revisionist history to relive and reshape watermark events like the suicide of Adolf Hitler to instead reimagine it as a much more viscerally satisfying assassination in a movie theater. But Inglourious Basterds is much more than just catharsis at watching Nazis get their comeuppance – though there’s a lot of that – it also happens to be Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece, taking the temporal and narrative manipulation of Pulp Fiction and enhancing it with the most brilliant and tense writing we’ve ever seen from the motor-mouthed movie brat. I’ll leave the debate as to whether it’s okay to punch a Nazi in real life up to you but when it comes to the world of cinema, there’s certainly something very satisfying about seeing Donny “The Bear Jew” Donowitz (Eli Roth) oblige a Nazi soldier’s desire to die for country.