Crossing the Streams: December 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
We’re in the home stretch of not just the Christmas holiday season but also one of the worst years to have ever existed since years began back in 0. If you’re anything like me, then you’ve been obscenely busy this holiday season with parties and concerts and events and all sorts of merrymaking that has not only made you merry, but also unspeakably exhausted. With Yuletide soon coming to a close and the calendar turning shortly, we should all have plenty of time soon to curl up on a couch or comfortable seating device of your choosing and give the gift of binge watching to our weary eyes. I’d suggest you start with these titles, which will soon go the way of auld lang syne.
The Muppet Christmas Carol (HBO Now): Did you know that in the theatrical version of The Muppet Christmas Carol Disney dropped the song “The Love Is Gone” as song by Belle to a young Ebenezer Scrooge out of concerns that it was too sad for young children? It was restored for VHS, Laserdisc, and initial DVD releases but, aside from YouTube, is nowhere to be found on any recent airings or releases. I was recently involved in a heated argument with a co-worker as to whether or not this was important, with me arguing that not only does it now make it for a nonsensical visual edit, but by removing the breakup, the film also removed a vital emotional plot point for Scrooge, whereas she argued something dumb that was wrong. One thing we were able to agree on though, is the greatness of Michael Caine, who is still my favorite on-screen depiction of the iconic miser (sorry, Alastair Sim) thanks in part to his decision to play the part completely straight though acting across from puppets. No matter what side of the argument you take in regards to the aforementioned axed ballad, both the love and the film will soon be gone, expiring on December 31st.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl (Netflix): These days, it seems that David Yates and J.K. Rowling are the only ones left still defending Johnny Depp as a person, which is still significantly more people than those who are left defending him artistically (The Lone Ranger, Mortdecai, Alice Through the Looking Glass, Yoga Hosers, etc.). The meteoric critical descent of the man who once gave us Edward Scissorhands, Raoul Duke, and Ed Wood has replaced admiration with schadenfreude for many of us who now instead know him as the domestic abuser who can’t be bothered to learn his lines let alone take risks. It’s easy to forget that at one point it seemed like this man did have some integrity if not as a person than as an artist, and one need only look back at Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl to see how bold he once was. Captain Jack Sparrow has become almost iconic these days, so it might surprise many to know that Disney executives were vehemently opposed to Depp’s interpretation of a character that was intended to hold up a tent pole franchise. Ultimately, his approach netted him an Oscar nomination and raked in over $650 million worldwide for the film. It also shone even more light on director Gore Verbinski, whose previous offering, The Ring, was another (albeit more modest) financial and critical success that launched a franchise. Curse of the Black Pearl will launch off into the sunset – or whatever sailing turn of phrase you prefer – on December 25th.
Pan’s Labyrinth (Amazon Prime): With The Shape of Water rightfully garnering all sorts of accolades, some people have been having the conversation as to where it ranks amongst Guillermo Del Toro’s work. As much as I loved The Shape of Water (look for it imminently on my Top 10 list coming soon), it’s neither my favorite of the filmmaker’s body of work nor do I think it’s his best. While the former honor goes to Hellboy, the latter honor goes to Pan’s Labyrinth, his dark fairytale set against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War. With 3 Oscar wins (Cinematography, Art Direction, Makeup) to go along with 3 other nominations (Original Screenplay, Score, Foreign Language Film) and a worldwide gross north of $83 million on a budget costing 1/4th of that, Pan’s Labyrinth proved that del Toro’s most intimate and imaginative stories are also his most resonant and beautiful, a sharp contrast to the mindless dumb fun that was Pacific Rim (the sequel for which del Toro mercifully passed on in order to pursue The Shape of Water). Del Toro’s best film won’t be around for long, expiring on December 31st.
Bone Tomahawk (Amazon Prime): I remember seeing the trailer for Bone Tomahawk and thinking, “That looks cool – I should keep an eye on that” only to almost immediately forget about it. Imagine my surprise when I later heard that it was one of Tyler Smith’s favorite films of 2015. I had never heard of S. Craig Zahler before and, based on to whom and what he’s attached himself since, I’m not sure how much more I want to hear from him, but I checked out Bone Tomahawk based on Tyler’s recommendation and can say it’s worth the hype. Equal parts adventure, Western, and horror, it’s a film that doesn’t easily fit into conventions, behooved by across the board stellar performances from the ever-reliable Kurt Russell to the surprisingly reliable Matthew Fox. It’s not a film for the weak of heart, but highly recommended for anyone else. It’s also, unfortunately, not a film for those who don’t want to pay for a rental after December 31st.
Other Notable Titles Expiring: Addams Family Values (December 31, Amazon Prime), Airplane! (December 31, Amazon Prime), Bram Stoker’s Dracula (December 31, Amazon Prime), Braveheart (December 31, Amazon Prime), Gremlin’s 2: The New Batch (December 31, Amazon Prime), Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (December 31, Amazon Prime), Magnolia (December 31, Amazon Prime), Ordinary People (December 31, Amazon Prime), Rocky – Rocky V (December 31, Amazon Prime), There Will Be Blood (December 31, Amazon Prime), Clueless (December 31, Amazon Prime/Hulu), Election (December 31, Amazon Prime/Hulu), Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (December 31, Hulu), Volver (December 31, Hulu), All the President’s Men (December 31, HBO Now), The Blair Witch Project (December 31, HBO Now), The Conjuring (December 31, HBO Now), The Dark Knight (December 31, HBO Now), Her (December 31, HBO Now), Krampus (December 31, HBO Now)
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 and you’re looking for any excuse to avoid having that political discussion with your parents. This is your grown up Christmas list!
The Santa Clause (Netflix): Sure, Tim Allen has said some dumb things but if being hyperbolic is his biggest crime, I’ll gladly take him over a Roman Polanski or a Woody Allen. Before Allen became the voice of Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story, he was associated with another Disney franchise, The Santa Clause, in which Scott Calvin inadvertently takes over the role of Santa Claus after the jolly man accidentally falls of Calvin’s roof on Christmas Eve. While the sequels, which are also available alongside the inaugural installment, get more juvenile and ridiculous, the original is actually quite entertaining, with Allen’s sardonic wit standing in gleeful contrast to his surroundings whether they be a meeting with his son’s principal or a repartee with his ex-wife’s boyfriend, the straight man as played by Judge Reinhold. The film is sarcastic without being cynical and touching without being saccharine, a fine balancing act to pull off for a film that tries to convince us that Santa isn’t actually immortal, but rather a mantle or title that’s passed along (just like 007 perhaps?). The Santa Clause – and yes, its sequels – have been ready to be a part of your holiday merrymaking since December 12th.
It Comes at Night (Amazon Prime): No matter how talented independent horror filmmakers are becoming when it comes to crafting mood and tone, audiences will seemingly never be satisfied unless a film wraps up its ending with a neat little bow. That appears to be the case with Trey Edward Shults’s It Comes at Night, one of the most tonally cohesive and claustrophobic films of the year, yet one of the most divisive when it came to the differences in critical vs. audience responses. I pitch my tent in the critics camp, impressed with the tension that Shults crafted and completely satisfied with an ending that I interpret to be perfectly clear in the future (or lack thereof) that the film hints towards. Which side of the argument do you fall on? It’s been available on Amazon Prime since December 9th to help you decide.
Logan (HBO Now): How does one approach the definitive ending to the story of a superhero with whom audiences have largely been oversaturated since his introduction in 2000? If you’re James Mangold, then you do it by taking the superhero genre in a direction it’s never been before. Set in a not too distant future in which all the X-Men have been killed off and an aging Wolverine is himself slowly succumbing to a failing healing ability, Logan allows Hugh Jackman to shine as the complicated protagonist in charge of protecting one of the first new mutants to be born in 25 years, played exceptionally by newcomer Dafne Keen. Logan is equal parts road movie and Western and, having committed to its R rating, features PLENTY of head stabbin’ that the previous studio films couldn’t stomach. With the recent purchase of much of 20th Century Fox by Disney, we’re likely in for a long future of many more homogenized, template tent pole superhero movies, further casting Logan as a black sheep that future audiences will wonder what factors ever allowed it to be made. You can appreciate it being the pariah of Marvel’s superhero output too since it’s been available to watch since December 9th.
Other Notable Titles Arriving: All the President’s Men (December 1, HBO Now), Gunpowder (December 18, HBO Now), Full Metal Jacket (December 1, Netflix), Wormwood (December 15, Netflix), Peaky Blinders Season 4 (December 21, Netflix), Creep 2 (December 23, Netflix), Bill Nye Saves the World Season 2 (December 29, Netflix), Nightcrawler (December 10, Amazon Prime), Apocalypse Now/Redux (December 1, Hulu), The Silence of the Lambs (December 1, Hulu), Legion Season 1 (December 8, Hulu), The Crow (December 15, Hulu),
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.
Broadchurch (Netflix/Amazon Prime): Seeing as he’s still my favorite iteration of the Doctor, I was skeptical about David Tennant’s gravely serious dramatic work until I saw Broadchurch. Like most BBC procedurals, Broadchurch is phenomenally acted, beautifully shot, and utterly soul-shattering, focusing on how the mysterious murder of a local boy in an idyllic coastal town brings all sorts of skeletons out of all sorts of closets. I was a big fan of the first two seasons (or “series” as our friends across the pond call them), which focus on the investigation, trial, and emotional fallout of the process, but recently released season 3 stands out by keeping one foot in the narrative of the preceding years while looking towards an entirely new investigation. The rape of Trish Winterman (Julie Hesmondhalgh) during a birthday party not only raises questions about many of the male attendees, but also about the emotional and social factors that, in a case of art imitating life, make pursuing and prosecuting a rape case so difficult. Male entitlement, genderlect theory, and even pornography are all scrutinized as contributing societal and narrative factors and, removed from the personal connection to the crime that took the focus of the previous two seasons, Olivia Colman steps up as a vulnerable and powerful force.
Gremlins (Netflix): There’s a lot of discussion these days as to what constitutes a Christmas movie or not and since we all don’t have the privilege of asking Alonso Duralde, a lot of it comes down to personal opinion and taste. No matter who you are though, everyone seems to agree that Gremlins, the dark comedy from genre fanboy Joe Dante, is definitely a Christmas movie. The satire of suburbia would be visited again in Dante’s The ‘Burbs in 1989 but it was Gremlins that showed us his talent for mixing the sour with the sweet, arguably the most exemplary case being when Billy Peltzer’s mom sticks a gremlin in a blender while “Do You Hear What I Hear?” rings out in the background.
A Muppet Family Christmas (YouTube): When you think of Christmas and Muppets, you of course naturally go to the previously mentioned The Muppet Christmas Carol. But if you were raised on Jim Henson’s creations then you might have a vague recollection of a Muppet Christmas special in which they made merry with characters from both Sesame Street AND Fraggle Rock. I’m here to assure you that this was not a puppet flavored fever dream, but instead 1987’s, A Muppet Family Christmas. Written by Jerry Juhl, the same scribe behind The Muppet Christmas Carol, and directed by longtime The Muppet Show director Peter Harris, this made for TV special sees Kermit and the gang surprising Fozzi Bear’s mom, who unbeknownst to them was not only on her way to a tropical holiday getaway but had also rented her place out to Doc and Sprocket from Fraggle Rock. If you want to cough up $30 to buy the DVD off Amazon, you’re more than welcome, but the entire thing is free to stream on YouTube in not terrible quality.