Crossing the Streams: February 2019, 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
Here we are in February, the month that can’t quite quit winter, yet which also can’t quite fully commit to the promise of spring. It’s the shortest month, but one still packed with a veritable smorgasbord of noteworthy days to indulge in all types of vices, whether they be the necromancy of Groundhog Day, the baseless consumerism of Valentine’s Day, or the hedonistic debauchery of my and/or Tyler Smith’s birthday. In that regard, it seems like the perfect month for indulgences and sitting on your butt watching movies while munching on leftover chocolate or birthday cake seem like a good ones to me. Since February is shorter than its 11 brother and sister months, you’d best get started sooner rather than later. I’d recommend starting with one or all of the following titles, whose streaming rights will all be disappearing quicker than Phil’s shadow.
Beetlejuice (Hulu): The folks over at the Blank Check podcast are currently working their way through the directorial resume of Tim Burton, which means that they’ve already covered a few titles featuring the talents of Michael Keaton. Working on a career that’s involved almost four decades of TV and film roles, Keaton has racked up an impressive collection of memorable characters from superhero (Batman, Batman Returns) to Shakespearian comic (Much Ado About Nothing) to washed up actor making his last pitch for relevance (Birdman). And yet arguably Keaton’s most memorable role is that of a self-proclaimed “bio-exorcist” who appears in less than 20 minutes of his titular(ish) film and for whom he improvised 90% of the dialogue. Beetlejuice was just the second title that Burton directed during an impressive early run that would culminate with 1994’s Ed Wood, but it was the earliest indicator of the kind of dark humor and darker aesthetic that would come to define his most successful cinematic endeavors. While the film features an impressive cast – Geena Davis, Alec Baldwin, Catherine O’Hara, and Winona Ryder included – it’s Keaton that steals the show as “the ghost with the most.” The film spawned a cartoon that ran for multiple seasons and over three decades of talk about a sequel. Find out why it’s endured for so long before it too has to read from the Handbook for the Recently Deceased on February 28th.
Blow Out (Hulu/Prime): As of this writing, the only exposure I’ve had to any Antonioni films are through the works of other people borrowing something from him: Orson Welles duplicating his visual style for laughs in The Other Side of the Wind, and Brian De Palma updating one of his classics for a more popular visual medium in Blow Out. I seem to be in the minority when it comes to my feelings on De Palma – most of his work is elevated schlock and The Untouchables is fine at best – but Blow Out is a legitimate masterpiece – a film in which he finally pulled off the Hitchcockian tension of which he was always falling short and featured a lead performance from John Travolta that would make Tarantino’s taking a chance on him 13 years later make sense in retrospect. The fact that Blow Out was neither a financial success nor an awards darling might explain why De Palma gravitated towards more popular fair with his next picture, a remake of a Hollywood gangster picture that updated its geographical and cultural setting to reflect the unheralded consequences of the so-called “American Dream.” Scarface would gross over $65 million worldwide and rack up 3 Golden Globe nominations and while its cynicism seems to have been lost on the expansive clientele that seem to uphold Al Pacino’s Tony Montana as a heroic figure, perhaps the film’s biggest crime is casting a shadow over the magnificent film that preceded it. Thankfully, the film’s significance has been canonized thanks to the Criterion Collection, which might be your best bet for getting your hands on Blow Out after February 28th.
Where the Wild Things Are (HBO Now): Spike Jonze was already hailed as a visionary long before he directed either Being John Malkovich or Adaptation thanks to his innovative music video work with Weezer, The Beastie Boys, and Wax. Never formally educated and honing his craft filming the skating videos that would indirectly feed into the creation of MTV’s Jackass, Jonze possessed an arrested development that allowed his innovation and imagination to thrive. So, when it was announced that Jonze would be adapting Maurice Sendak’s children’s classic, Where the Wild Things Are, it just seemed like the perfect choice. Then, however, there were the rumors that test screenings were making children cry. Then there were reshoots and the subsequent delayed opening. Then there were tepid audience reactions and, ultimately, a box office bomb. To this day, Where the Wild Things Are remains a film without an intended audience. It spoke to the truths from our formative years as children, yet seemingly came too late for those adults that saw it and was too hard to understand for the children that didn’t. The film has its ardent defenders – it was Battleship Pretension’s own David Bax’s favorite film of 2009 – but, like its titular Wild Things feared, it seems to have faded from memory as time has passed. Perhaps all that the film needs is a revisit, another chance to open us up now that we’re even older to the beautiful melancholy of growth that its trailer so effectively evoked with its use of The Arcade Fire’s “Wake Up.” If so, you should revisit soon, as it expires on February 28th.
Other Notable Titles Expiring:
HBO Now: Battle of the Sexes (2/28), The Belko Experiment (2/28), The Fugitive (2/28), Goodbye Christopher Robin (2/28), I Heart Huckabees (2/28), Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (2/28), Logan (2/28), Sherlock Holmes 2009 (2/28), The Verdict (2/28)
Hulu: Apollo 13 (2/28), Basic Instinct (2/28), Dressed to Kill (2/28), Leaving Las Vegas (2/28), Lethal Weapon 1 – 4 (2/28)
Prime: Florence Foster Jenkins (2/25), Event Horizon (2/27), Saved! (2/27), All the President’s Men (2/28), Boogie Nights (2/28), A Clockwork Orange (2/28), Hoosiers (2/28), Let Me In (2/28), Mars Attacks! (2/28), The Motorcycle Diaries (2/28), Sweeney Todd: The Demon of Barber Street (2/28), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2/28), Terminator 2: Judgment Day (2/28)
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 with Lent just around the corner, you’ll be needing something to replace that vice that you’ll be giving up.
High Flying Bird (Netflix): Steve Soderbergh is a liar. How else can you explain the 3 feature films that he’s directed – and a 4th one coming – since he announced his retirement from directing in 2013? I’m being glib, of course; I’m sure that when he made his announcement 6 years ago he was being completely genuine as he saw no place for his independent approach and mindset in a cinematic landscape that was being swallowed up by Hollywood real estate. And, sure, while the MCU isn’t going anywhere soon, since he made that declaration we’ve seen films from directors with distinctive voices like 12 Years a Slave, Moonlight, and The Shape of Water take home the top prize at the Oscars, the voting body of AMPAS diversified, and distributors like A24 and Annapurna Pictures ensure that low budget films like The Florida Project, If Beale Street Could Talk, A Ghost Story, and Lady Bird have reached as large an audience as possible. The landscape changed and thus, Soderbergh returned, dropping 3 films in as many years with Logan Lucky, Unsane, and now, the Netflix exclusive High Flying Bird. Written by Oscar-winner, Tarell Alvin McCraney (Moonlight), the film stars Andre Holland, hot off Hulu’s Castle Rock, as Ray Burke, an NBA agent trying to pull off a deal that’ll shift the balance of power in the entire league. Co-starring Zazie Beetz, Zachary Quinto, and Kyle MacLachlan, the film has a lot going for it, which is good, because apparently Soderbergh didn’t learn his lesson from the terrible Unsane and has once again opted to shoot entirely on an iPhone 8. Feel like you’re watching well-directed DV tape footage againwith High Flying Bird, which premiered on February 8th.
Russian Doll (Netflix): The most important day in February is, of course, Groundhog Day, which is also the inspiration for my favorite movie of all time. As was the case with that film’s chronologically stuck protagonist, Russian Doll’s Nadia Vulvokov (star and co-creator Natasha Lyonne) finds herself dying and returning to the same day over and over. That same day, unfortunately, just happens to be her birthday. The series lists Leslye Headland (Bachelorette, Sleeping with Other People) and Amy Poehler (duh) as its co-creators and, if social media is to be believed, is worthy of being your next binge-worthy endeavor. Only 8 episodes long with runtimes of 30 minutes each, you’ll probably be revisiting it sooner than you think. Russian Doll premiered on February 1st.
Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot (Prime): Judging by the buzz that the film generated at Sundance 2018, it seemed like Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot, Gus Van Sant’s biopic on Portland-based cartoonist, John Callahan, was headed for surefire Oscar gold. That turned out not to be the case for the film, which features some strong performances from Joaquin Phoenix, Jonah Hill, and Jack Black (in his BP-nominated cameo), but suffers from finding resonance with audiences who might not be aware of who Callahan was and what his contributions to breaking down artistic taboos were. Even then, it’s no guarantee that audiences would care as the late artist often battled accusations of being politically incorrect. It’s very clear, however, that Van Sant cares deeply as evidenced by his measured and often innocent direction of Phoenix as the lead. A co-production of Amazon Studios, the film won’t get far either, now available since February 8th.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (HBO Now): Benjamin Franklin said that the only three certain things in life are death, taxes, and outrageous Oscar snubs. Each year AMPAS is guaranteed to upset basically everybody with what it chooses to either include or exclude for its end of the year awards and while most of this year’s ire has been directed towards the inclusion of both Green Book and Bohemian Rhapsody as potential top prize winners, it’s distracted us from arguably the biggest exclusion of the year: Won’t You Be My Neighbor? from Best Documentary Feature. The film about the life and legacy of the iconic Mr. Rogers from Morgan Neville (20 Feet from Stardom) has won basically every award possible this year, but apparently didn’t make the cut for AMPAS. Granted, its subject matter isn’t as harrowing as mountain climbing and it isn’t particularly culturally pedagogical, but in a social and political climate in which divisions are widening rather than being bridged, a film about a man whose acceptance and uplifting of others knew no boundaries is a reminder of how revolutionary love can be in the darkest times. Perhaps the Academy’s good will quota was fulfilled with RBG (available on Hulu!), a film that co-opts the hope of the past to look toward the future rather than settle into the nostalgia of what used to be. It’s been a beautiful day in the neighborhood since February 9th.
Three Identical Strangers (Hulu): The phrase “the truth is stranger than fiction” doesn’t really seem to hold much water if you’ve seen Sorry to Bother You, but Three Identical Strangers makes a pretty strong case for it. The documentary unfolds the story of three young men, all adopted by separate families, who gradually find out that they’re triplets separated at birth. While that discovery in and of itself isn’t cosmically unusual, the story of why they were separated is bizarre, sinister, and not for me to spoil here. The film plays out like a great pulpy mystery thriller, keeping a clear focus on how the larger machinations at play trickled down to affect the personal lives of every player involved. If one were to have written a fictional screenplay with this exact story, it would be rejected for being unbelievable. As Robert Shafran, one of three brothers, said himself: “When I tell people my story, they don’t believe it. I guess I wouldn’t believe the story if someone else were telling it, but I’m telling it and it’s true, every word of it.” See how strange the truth can be on February 26th.
Other Notable Titles Arriving:
HBO Now: The Bourne Identity (2/1), The Bourne Supremacy (2/1), Buried (2/1), Collateral (2/1), Hulk (2/1), Sunshine (2/1), Folklore Series Premiere (2/1), 2 Dope Queens Season 2 Premiere (2/8), Last Week Tonight with John Oliver Season 6 Premiere (2/18), United Skates (2/18)
Hulu: Legion Season 2 (2/3), PEN15 Season 1 (2/8), Bad Santa (2/1), The Big Lebowski (2/1), The Bourne Ultimatum (2/1), Born on the Fourth of July (2/1), Caddyshack (2/1), Capote (2/1), Dazed and Confused (2/1), Field of Dreams (2/1), Four Weddings and a Funeral (2/1), Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2/1), Mississippi Burning (2/1), Terminator 2: Judgment Day (2/1), Thelma & Louise (2/1), Three Kings (2/1), Wayne’s World (2/1), Wayne’s World 2 (2/1), Wedding Crashers (2/1), Cabin Fever (2/2), The Sisters Brothers (2/18)
Netflix: About a Boy (2/1), As Good As It Gets (2/1), Billy Elliot (2/1), Final Destination (2/1), Jaws (2/1), Personal Shopper (2/1), Velvet Buzzsaw (2/1), Patriot Act with Hassan Minhaj: Volume 2 (2/10), The Umbrella Academy (2/15), The 40-Year Old Virgin (2/16)
Prime Video: Agatha Christie Presents: ABC Murders (2/1), Generation Wealth (2/1), The Blues Brothers (2/1), The Last of the Mohicans (2/1), The Matrix, The Matrix Reloaded, The Matrix Revolutions (2/1), Lorena (2/15)
Showtime Anytime: 21 Grams (2/1), Black Hawk Down (2/1), The Hours (2/1), Jackie Brown (2/1), A Knight’s Tale (2/1), The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!, Naked Gun 2 ½: The Smell of Fear, Naked Gun 33 ⅓: The Final Insult (2/1), Narc (2/1), Pulp Fiction (2/1), The Road (2/1)
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 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.
Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror (Shudder): The (tired) criticism that I heard most often in response to the success of Get Out was, “if the races were reversed, we wouldn’t even be talking about the movie.” Those comments, uniformly from Caucasians, indicated that they either didn’t understand or – probably more accurately – didn’t want to accept that writer/director Jordan Peele wasn’t trying to make a good horror film that was race agnostic, but a film that was horror because it was abouta specific American racial experience. It’s in the wake of Get Out’s success that Shudder releases Horror Noire, a documentary based on the book “Horror Noire: Blacks in American Horror Films from the 1890s to Present” by Professor Robin R. Means Coleman. The film interviews distinctive African-Americans from across the cinematic and cultural landscape – Keith David, Ernest Dickerson, Rachel True, Ashlee Blackwell, amongst others – to speak on how Hollywood’s depictions of African-Americans has symbiotically reflected and contributed to their marginalization. Tracing cinematic depictions of African-Americans beginning with Birth of a Nation through Get Out, the film hypothesizes that the black experience and black identity in America has always been linked to horror.
You (Netflix): You has absolutely no business being as enjoyable as it is. Salacious, insane, and downright creepy from the first minute of the first episode, You is chock full of damaged characters making bad decisions for the wrong reasons at the wrong times, but that didn’t unglue the butts of both my girlfriend and I from the couch a couple weeks back when we watched 6 episodes in a row. Premiering on – and then quickly dropped by – Lifetime and finding new life on Netflix, You is a melodramatic examination of how literally psychotic the archetypal male love interest in a romantic comedy would have to be in order to achieve the unobtainable and unbelievable perfection that Hollywood tells us he should possess. You is basically the TV equivalent of “Midnight Sun,” the unreleased “Twilight” companion that was told from Edward Cullen’s perspective and shed light on how utterly not romantic so-called romantic leads are. What makes You worth watching in that context, however, is that neither the show nor its lead, Penn Badgley, have any illusions that Joe Goldberg is anything other than a deluded monster. Stephenie Meyer would have you believe that Cullen watching Bella sleep all night is romantic; Greg Berlanti and Sera Gamble would have you believe that it’s stalking.
Abducted in Plain Sight (Netflix): Let me get this out of the way immediately: Abducted in Plain Sight is FUCK-ING BONK-ERS. Ostensibly, this Netflix exclusive documentary is about the Brobergs, a Mormon family in Idaho whose youngest daughter was kidnapped by their trusted neighbor twice, but what elements factor into something so sick and twisted being allowed to happen more than once is absolutely insane. Abducted in Plain Sight is a film better served by going into it knowing as little as possible, but suffice it to say that if the recurring theme of alien abduction isn’t even the craziest thing you’ll have to accept to follow where the story leads, then it’ll be a film you’ll be thinking about for days after watching.
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-week. 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 between 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: Children of Men, Shaun of the Dead, The Big Lebowski, Clerks, The Bourne Ultimatum, Cabin Fever
Prime Video: All That Heaven Allows