Crossing the Streams: January 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
Christmas is over. It’s January. It’s cold. Don’t go outside. Watch movies instead. Start with these since they’re expiring soon.
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (Netflix): Amazon’s Lord of the Rings series that looks to be the most expensive series in history has showrunners but very few details so far. Fans of Tolkien’s Middle-earth are a devoted and protective bunch, so the success of the show is far from guaranteed. Luckily, the epic film trilogy isn’t going anywhere (unless you’re a Netflix subscriber, in which it’s definitely going somewhere on January 19th). Collectively winning seventeen Oscars – including a perfect eleven-for-eleven for The Return of the King – and occupying three of the top fifteen spots on IMDb’s Top 250 films of all time, the films made Viggo Mortensen and Orlando Bloom household names, enshrined Sir Ian McKellan in genre circles as a godlike figure, and ensured that a New Zealand director previously known mostly for entertaining horror schlock would forever be known as THE Lord of the Rings guy (for both good and ill). At this point in history, there are no more debates to be had about the films; you’re either a fan or you’re not and you’re not being convinced one way or the other. They’ll be sailing off to the Undying Lands soon though, so if you don’t already own the impressively stacked Blu-ray set, this may be your last chance for a 12+ hour binge watch.
28 Days Later (Hulu): Until 28 Days Later was released, Danny Boyle was mostly known for his audacious sophomore feature effort, Trainspotting, and for underwhelming everyone with his adaptation of Alex Garland’s The Beach. Still, the director from Manchester had proven himself to be a bold and versatile director and it was his first foray into the horror genre that further cemented his reputation as a director whose work demanded attention. Shot on low resolution MiniDV tapes that allowed for a healthy element of guerilla filmmaking, 28 Days Later was a kinetic and often surreal horror film, adhering to the societal subtext inherent to many zombie films while breaking with their archetypical conventions in many ways. The film grossed ten times its meager budget, exposed many Americans to UK talents Cillian Murphy and Naomie Harris for the first time, and was the first time that Boyle would collaborate with writer Alex Garland, who would later write Sunshine (more on him in a bit), and DP Anthony Dod Mantle, who would shoot almost every Boyle project after this, picking up an Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire. In this current political and social climate, a film about a global epidemic called “Rage” seems all the more prescient. Its streaming rights will be wiped out quicker than humanity will be though, expiring on January 31st.
Reservoir Dogs (Hulu): Arguably the most notable name to rise to prominence from America’s independent film surge of the 1990s is Quentin Tarantino, the movie brat who famously circumvented the previous generation’s path to film education and stardom by eschewing film school and voraciously ingesting cinema while working at Video Archives in Manhattan Beach, California. Love him or hate him, it’s undeniable that the writer/director of Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill, and Inglourious Basterds has made an indelible mark on American cinema with a writing and directing style that heavily borrows styles and archetypes from preceding filmmakers while brilliantly repurposing and homaging them to elevate the story he’s trying to tell. It all began in 1992 with Reservoir Dogs, a heist film inspired by Hong Kong film City of Fire that focuses on the relationships of the criminals to each other in lieu of the actual heist. The film laid the early groundwork for many of what would become known as signature trademarks of later Tarantino films including irreverent dialogue, an effectively dissonant soundtrack, and phenomenal performances all around, including those from actors that Tarantino loved growing up despite the industry considering them past their primes (specifically Lawrence Tierney as Joe Cabot and Edward Bunker as Mr. Blue). Reservoir Dogs was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance along with Gas, Food Lodging from Allison Anders and eventual winner In the Soup from Alexandre Rockwell, both of whom would later team with and be overshadowed by Tarantino when Miramax collected them all and Robert Rodriguez for the little seen and less loved anthology Four Rooms. Reservoir Dogs expires January 31st.
Other Notable Titles Expiring:
HBO Now: A Cure for Wellness (1/31), Drag Me to Hell (1/31), How to Train Your Dragon (1/31), It (1/31), Kingsman: The Golden Circle (1/31), The Lego Batman Movie (1/31), The Princess Bride (1/31), Vanilla Sky (1/31), You’ve Got Mail (1/31)
Hulu: Amelie (1/31), Death Wish (1/31), Existenz (1/31), Four Rooms (1/31), Hostel & Hostel 2 (1/31), Jerry Maguire (1/31), Pleasantville (1/31), Searching for Bobby Fischer (1/31), Searching for Sugar Man (1/31), Serendipity (1/31), Teen Wolf & Teen Wolf Too (1/31), Up in the Air (1/31), Winter’s Bone (1/31)
Netflix: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (1/18)
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 you’re not either unless 30 degrees that feel like 20 degrees with wind chill sounds appealing to you.
Solo: A Star Wars Story (Netflix): The kerfuffle around Lord and Miller being replaced by Ron Howard as directors of Solo has been well documented, with many wondering how much the behind the scenes drama led to the (relatively) tepid critical and financial response to the film that effectively ended plans for more – pardon the pun – solo offshoot Star Wars titles. While Lord and Miller are known for their unique, irreverent comedy voices (21 Jump Street, The Lego Movie), Howard has always been a director that toed the company line. An auteur he is not but the guy responsible for Backdraft, Apollo 13, and The Da Vinci Code knows a thing or two about keeping the reins on films of massive scope and scale. Studio interference aside, Solo is an entertaining blockbuster with fun performances – Donald Glover (Lando Calrissian) and Phoebe Waller-Bridge (L3-37) especially – and a harrowing chase sequence that illuminates one of the most famous claims about the Millennium Falcon’s capabilities. From my perspective, people seemed disproportionally upset over what Solo delivered versus what Rogue One delivered, even though there’s objectively more evidence that a significantly altered version of the latter film exists (and is a less entertaining film than Solo). Now far removed from the backlash, give Solo another watch on Netflix, where it’s been available since January 9th.
Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes (Netflix): I’ll be honest and say that I knew absolutely nothing about this documentary series – including its existence – before researching for this blog but what little is known is worth highlighting. The four-part series on the “Jack the Ripper of the United States” is inspired by the book written by Stephen G. Michaud and Hugh Aynesworth and utilizes over 100 hours of audio interviews with the serial killer for unprecedented perspective on his motivations. The series should satisfy the macabre curiosity of those who, like myself, loved David Fincher’s Netflix exclusive Mindhunter. Directed and executive produced by documentary stalwart Joe Berlinger (Brother’s Keeper, Paradise Lost, Metallica: Some Kind of Monster), the series will debut on January 24th.
Marvel’s The Punisher Season 2 (Netflix): Along with Jessica Jones, The Punisher is the only Netflix exclusive Marvel series that hasn’t been canceled (yet). While I was a fan of the first season’s meditation on how violence begets violence and supremely impressed with the work Jon Bernthal was doing, it wasn’t until I saw the most recent trailer for Season two that I decided I would carry on with the series. Marvel’s Netflix offerings all seem to suffer dips in quality in their second seasons (I couldn’t even finish Jessica Jones’s sophomore effort) and early reports say that The Punisher is, unfortunately, no exception. It’s worth re-emphasizing, however, how phenomenal Bernthal is as Frank Castle and I, for one, am curious as to how the show will reinterpret the Billy Russo/Jigsaw character, whose previous iteration was brought to us by Dominic West eating more scenery than his hooligans ate bullets. See for yourself if The Punisher suffers the sophomore slump on January 18th.
Leave No Trace (Prime Video): There was a fair amount of outrage recently when women directors were entirely shutout from the Feature Film and First-Time Feature Film nominations for the Directors Guild of America Awards. Nominations for Peter Farrelly (Green Book) and/or Adam McKay (Vice) very well could have/should have gone to Lynn Ramsey (You Were Never Really Here) or Debra Granik (Leave No Trace), two women directors who made films that are both currently being considered for inclusion in my Top Ten films of 2018. Leave No Trace is Granik’s first narrative feature film since her Oscar-nominated Winter’s Bone (an eight-year gap that she details in a wonderful episode of the podcast, The Business) and stars Ben Foster and relative newcomer Thomasin McKenzie as a transient father/daughter spending their days living in a vast public park in Portland, Oregon. When the two are found, placed into social services and given housing and work on a Christmas tree farm, the generational and psychological divide between the father with PTSD and his daughter entering her most formative years begins to painfully widen. As of this writing, the film still holds a 100% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, yet has also been largely overlooked when it comes to end of the year awards. Rant and rave about how misguided awards voting is after you watch it on January 12th.
Eighth Grade (Prime Video): Of those aforementioned DGA nominations, one that I think we can all agree was awarded deservedly was Bo Burnham’s nod for First-Time Feature Film for Eighth Grade. The film stars Elsie Fisher (who can gush over any movie SHE DAMN WELL PLEASES, YOU MONSTERS!) as Kayla Day, an introverted eighth grader trying to survive her last week of school before she can graduate and move on to what she views as the greener pastures of high school. Burnham, who is much younger than his two amazing stand-up specials and lavishly praised feature debut would imply, has always made the hypocritical and contradicting nature of staying true to one’s self a core theme of his comedy, undoubtedly informed by his experience of developing his voice and persona in the public eye as a teen on YouTube. He brings insight into what it means to try and be both unique and accepted in a connected world to Eighth Grade, which sees Kayla offering a daily, little seen YouTube advice column on staying true to yourself when she constantly struggles with how being accepted or rejected informs her self-worth. Elsie Fisher gives one of the finest lead performances of the year, supplemented by Josh Hamilton as her often clueless but always earnest father. Another film in the running for my Top Ten, Eighth Grade is available January 13th.
Annihilation (Hulu/Prime Video): If you haven’t yet picked up on a theme for this month’s recommendations, it’s films that are in the running for my Top Ten films of 2018. Annihilation got an early asterisk* on my list of films seen in 2018, but admittedly suffers from the fact that its early release – February 23rd – means its resonance has been significantly diminished due to the distance between my having seen it and my now writing about it. Thankfully, as of January 5th, I’ve been able to fix that and while I ::ahem:: haven’t yet, I fully intend to, because the things that I do remember about it – the haunting beauty of nature reclaiming its dominance, the dreamlike cinematography of Rob Hardy, the terrifyingly tense bear sequence – still stand out almost a year after viewing. Annihilation was named one of Ten Best Films of 2018 by io9 but isn’t without its minor controversy due to the claims of whitewashing the two leads of Jennifer Jason Leigh and Natalie Portman, who are portraying characters that were Asian in Jeff VanderMeer’s source material, which director Alex Garland adapted.
*An asterisk next to a title on my Movies Seen list in my Keep Notes app reminds me to consider it for one or more categories come BPs nomination time.
True Detective Season 3 (HBO Now): What was raised by Cary Joji Fukunaga, Woody Harrelson, and Matthew McConaughey in Season one was killed by Nick Pizzolatto, Vince Vaughn, and Taylor Kitsch in Season two and thus, we now look to Jeremy Saulnier and Oscar and Golden Globe winner Mahershala Ali to resurrect it in Season three. The latest season of True Detective will take place across three different time periods and stars Ali as Detective Wayne Hays as the lead investigator on a brutal crime in the Ozarks. While Season three will emulate Season two in handing the director reins to multiple people across the season, it will benefit from its first two episodes being directed by Saulnier, whose Blue Ruin and Green Room were both exceptional films (I’ve heard good things about Hold the Dark too). Season three premieres January 13th.
Other Notable Titles Arriving:
HBO Now: Crashing Season 3 Premiere (1/13), High Maintenance Season 3 Premiere (1/20), Brexit (1/19), Super Troopers 2 (1/5), Ocean’s 8 (1/12), Tully (1/19), Tag (1/26), The American President (1/1), The Beach (1/1), Big Fish (1/1), In the Valley of Elah (1/1), Logan (1/1), Psycho 1998 (1/1), Psycho II & III (1/1), Traffic (1/1), X2 (1/1), Z for Zachariah (1/1)
Hulu: Atlanta Season 2 (1/1), A Simple Plan (1/1), Babe (1/1), Basic Instinct(1/1), Beetlejuice (1/1), Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1/1), Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1/1), Capitalism: A Love Story (1/1), Chinatown (1/1), The Dead Zone (1/1), Dirty Pretty Things (1/1), Finding Neverland (1/1), For a Few Dollars More (1/1), Friday Night Lights (1/1), Gods and Monsters (1/1), Grizzly Man (1/1), Heathers (1/1), Hellraiser (1/1), Lethal Weapon 1 – 4 (1/1), Mud (1/1), Mimic (1/1), The Others (1/1), Revolutionary Road (1/1), The Running Man (1/1), The Two Jakes (1/1), The Virgin Suicides (1/1), Total Recall 1990 (1/1), The X-Files Season 11 (1/3), The Commuter (1/8), Brooklyn Nine-Nine Season 6 Premiere (1/11), Love Gilda (1/31)
Netflix: A Series of Unfortunate Events Season 3 (1/1), Babel (1/1), Black Hawk Down (1/1), City of God (1/1), Hell or High Water (1/1), Indiana Jones Quadrilogy (1/1), Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (1/1), Pan’s Labyrinth (1/1), Pulp Fiction (1/1), Swingers (1/1), The Addams Family (1/1), The Dark Knight (1/1), The Strangers (1/1), Watchmen (1/1), Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1/2), Sex Education (1/11), American Gangster (1/16), Carmen Sandiego (1/18), FYRE: The Greatest Party that Never Happened (1/18), Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation (1/24), Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Season 4 Part 2 (1/26), The Incredibles 2 (1/30)
Prime Video: A Beautiful Mind (1/1), Brazil (1/1), Beautiful Boy (1/4), Fahrenheit 11/9 (1/19)
Showtime Anytime: Shameless Midseason Premiere (1/20), Ray Donovan Season Finale (1/13), Adventureland (1/1), The Blair Witch Project & Blair Witch: Book of Shadows (1/1), Bull Durham (1/1), Eastern Promises (1/1), Frida (1/1), Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (1/1), Punch Drunk Love (1/1), A Single Man (1/1), Star Trek: First Contact (1/1), Trainspotting (1/1), Molly’s Game (1/5)
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.
First Reformed (Prime Video): First Reformed didn’t crack this year’s Golden Globe nominations and, with the exception of an outside chance for lead Ethan Hawke, isn’t likely to be recognized once the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences weighs in on the year’s best films either. But make no mistake – the latest feature from writer/director Paul Schrader is one of the best films of the year and as of this writing, occupying a spot in this writer’s top three. First Reformed revolves around Reverend Toller (Hawke), the minister of a historical, sparsely populated, small town church who struggles with hope and spirituality amongst what he considers to be mounting despair and tragedy in the world, yet who is called upon to provide guidance for a pregnant congregant, Mary (Amanda Seyfried), when tragedy strikes her marriage. Schrader’s script explores the physical and spiritual health of a man who finds purpose for his life again after battling with despair. As is often the case with Schrader, where and in what Toller finds his answers and meaning is not without its share of controversy and outrage but First Reformed is a film with themes that emulate the journey of a large percentage of the population deconstructing and reevaluating what faith and action look like in the face of seemingly inescapable despair.
Schitt’s Creek (Netflix): When a rich family finds itself suddenly broke and all their assets seized by the IRS with the exception of a small, backwater town that their patriarch purchased as a joke – the titular Schitt’s Creek – it’s in and with that joke that they must live as they attempt to regroup. That’s the premise of Schitt’s Creek, created by stars and family members Eugene and Dan Levy. Rounding out the Rose family along with the Levys are Second City alum Catherine O’Hara and Annie Murphy. Veterans of the improv heavy films of Christopher Guest, O’Hara and Eugene Levy (A Mighty Wind, Best in Show) have instant and hilarious chemistry, but the additions of Levy’s son and Annie Murphy into the fold create a group dynamic that, in a similar vein to Arrested Development, battles with itself as much as it unites against the peanut gallery that surround them. Schitt’s Creek is absent any cynicism or condescension towards small town folk that could potentially sink a similar show, treating all of its characters with the same amount of deprecation.
Don’t Look Now (Shudder): Nicholas Roeg’s seminal horror film was an instant purchase for me when Criterion announced it as a Blu-ray release. Roeg, who was an accomplished DP before he became a director, brings an alluring yet ominous tone to the streets of Venice where Don’t Look Now primarily takes place. Starring Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie as a couple mourning the drowning death of their young daughter, Don’t Look Now relies on tension and atmosphere to unsettle viewers with even its final horrific reveal relying more on emotional shock than visceral terror to punch you in the gut. Much more arthouse than mainstream, Don’t Look Now will certainly leave an impression, being voted the best British film of all time by 150 film experts for Time Out London.
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 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: Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Finding Neverland, Into the Wild, Love Actually, The Godfather Trilogy, The Green Mile, The Iron Giant, The Shining, It Follows
Prime Video: 3:10 to Yuma, Monster’s Ball, Galaxy Quest, Lost