Crossing the Streams: June 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 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
I must apologize for the lateness of this month’s blog, which I had intended to write much sooner than I did. Because of my tardiness, you perhaps may not have been informed of the expiring of some titles (4:44 Last Day on Earth or Selma, for instance) or are only now seeing that you don’t have as much time to watch others before the expire shortly. My only hope is that your anger at my tardiness will pale in comparison to the anger of the studios that charge too much for streaming rights that ultimately will lead to the expiring of some of these following titles…
Gladiator (Hulu): In college, it seemed like there were three films that managed to fit in the middle of the Venn Diagram between the circles of “Movies That Bros Like” and “Moves That Film Snobs Like”: Goodfellas, Fight Club, and Gladiator. While I never really understood why cinephiles were drawn to the flame of Maximus Decimus Meridius, father to a murdered son and husband to a murdered wife, to this day I still cannot deny the visual style and sharp eye that Ridley Scott possesses, here brought to life by cinematographer John Mathieson, who would later go on to shoot Scott’s underappreciated Kingdom of Heaven. No matter what, whether you’re a bro who got pumped being serenaded by that Kid Rock trailer or a cinephile choosing to forget that this film was released the same year as Traffic, you can both still answer “yes” to the question of “are you not entertained?” until June 30th.
Beetlejuice (Amazon Prime): Remember the good old days before Tim Burton became a parody of himself, Alec Baldwin was Boss Baby, and the world needed Alejandro González Iñárritu to remind them that Michael Keaton was really good at his job? Beetlejuice is a reminder that at one point, Tim Burton was a masterful, unique mainstream filmmaker, wrapping up darkness and comedy in a bow reminiscent of German Expressionism before any of us were even aware of what German Expressionism was. The tale of the recently deceased Adam and Barbara Maitland (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) hiring so-called “bio-exorcist” Betelgeuse (Michael Keaton) to remove the new yuppie tenants of their beloved country home is hilarious, macabre, imaginative, and likely wildly inappropriate for me to have been watching when I was a child. Sadly, saying its name three times likely won’t summon it back from expiring on June 30th.
Hellboy (Amazon Prime): HOT TAKE coming your way: I find Guillermo del Toro to be a bit overrated as a filmmaker (ducks for cover). Don’t get me wrong – I find him to be a talented filmmaker having produced some emotionally and visually stunning work that I truly love (this, Pan’s Labyrinth, The Devil’s Backbone), but his expansive imagination and childlike approach to his stories have produced scripts that I find unfocused (Crimson Peak), bloated (Hellboy II: The Golden Army), or just plain boring (Pacific Rim). Having said that, Hellboy is one of my absolute favorite films of all time, with a script that features a perfect blend of fantastic elements grounded in emotional realism (a touch of Lovecraftian lore will always do it for me as well). Del Toro’s writing and directing combined with Ron Perlman’s portrayal of earnest immaturity make the titular demon’s struggles of trying to fit into a world that doesn’t understand him entirely plausible with themes of self-love, faith, and choice. It may be the decision to end things that makes a man a man, so I’ll leave it up to you decide what kind of man Amazon Prime is by ending the film’s streaming rights on June 30th.
The Wicker Man (Mubi): As a film director, IMDB only credits three films to Robin Hardy as a director: The Wicker Tree, which is a legitimately bad film, The Fantasist, which I have never seen, and The Wicker Man, which is arguably one of the finest cult horror films that was ever made. It was likely his work as a historical novelist that kept him from making more films, but even if his resume was cut short due to tragedy or a Michael Powell-esque career exile, his legacy would forever be cemented by the fact that The Wicker Man is one of the most trippy and bleak horror films that you’ll ever see. The off-kilter tone is immediately set by the plot – a devout Catholic policeman searches an island populated by a fertility cult for a missing girl – and the mood is enhanced as the mystery deepens, supplemented by eerie folk music, occult language and symbolism, and Christopher Lee at the peak of his career as the cult leader. If you’ve never seen the film, I won’t spoil the ending (which you won’t soon forget) but suffice it to say it does for the hymn “The Lord’s My Shepherd” what A Clockwork Orange did for “Singin’ in the Rain.” Streaming on Mubi, which introduces a new film every day and gives viewers 30 days to watch it, The Wicker Man is set to expire on June 26th.
Other Notable Titles Expiring: Killer Klowns from Outer Space (Hulu, June 30), Radio Days (Hulu, June 30), Trading Places (Hulu, June 30), The Birth of a Nation Kino Restored Edition (Amazon Prime, June 30), A History of Violence (Amazon Prime, June 30), Hook (Amazon Prime, June 30), Punch-Drunk Love (Amazon Prime, June 30), Chaplin (Amazon Prime/Hulu, June 30), Witness (Amazon Prime/Hulu, June 30), Deadpool (HBO Now, June 30), Dallas Buyers Club (HBO Now, June 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, which means if you still haven’t forgiven me for my tardiness, perhaps getting lost in these titles will help soften your mood…
Zodiac (Netflix): Damn, 2007 was a great year for cinema. In 2007 we saw the greatest coin flip for Best Picture Oscar in recent memory with No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood, Edgar Wright gave us the second installment of the Cornetto Trilogy with Hot Fuzz, Paul Greengrass wrapped up (or so we thought) his time with Jason Bourne with The Bourne Ultimatum, and David Yates took Harry Potter in a new direction with Order of the Phoenix. But arguably the greatest film to come out that year was David Fincher’s Zodiac, which for some reason was criminally overlooked when it came to audiences and awards voting bodies. These days, no one needs to be sold on the genius of David Fincher’s meticulous directing style (though in case you still do, here’s this and this), which sees a natural application in the obsessive protagonists at the heart of Fincher’s films. It’s arguably applicable to no protagonist more so than Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal), a cartoonist with a love of puzzles who becomes obsessed with the task of identifying the Zodiac Killer, who to this day has still not been conclusively identified. Zodiac is a determined, paranoid thriller, brought to life in a way that only a filmmaker like Fincher could and has been available since June 1st.
GLOW: Season 1 (Netflix): I haven’t really done a whole lot of reading or research on GLOW – an acronym for Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling – but I love me some Alison Brie (in an “I appreciate her comedy stylings unlike the Entourage bros” kind of way) and creator Liz Flahive has a history with good, female-driven shows as a producer on Nurse Jackie and Homeland. If that’s not enough for you, just think of the recent track record of Netflix exclusive TV properties (House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, Stranger Things) while also being encouraged that early buzz is really positive. Whether you’re a fan of gorgeous ladies, wrestling, or both, it seems like this show might become another fan favorite along the lines of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. We’ll all be able to know more when season 1 becomes available to stream on June 23rd.
Blue Velvet (Amazon Prime/Hulu): 25 years ago, Laura Palmer told FBI Agent Dale Cooper that she would see him again and true to her word, she’s back courtesy of Showtime. But before Kyle MacLachlan was the plucky FBI Agent with a love for damn fine coffee, he was Jeffrey Beaumont, a naïve suburban kid who stumbled upon a severed ear and entered into the seedy criminal underbelly of his seemingly idyllic small town. The cynicism toward small towns pre-empted Twin Peaks by six years but only in Blue Velvet will you find Dean Stockwell lip-syncing to Roy Orbison. I don’t understand why Lynch included that scene in Blue Velvet any more than I understand why he included Wally Brando in Twin Peaks but I sure am glad that he’s an artist creating things that spark discussion and introspection. Both Amazon Prime and Hulu made Blue Velvet available to watch on June 1st.
Apocalypse Now/Apocalypse Now Redux (Amazon Prime/Hulu): They don’t make films like Apocalypse Now anymore. Let me revise that statement – they don’t let people make films like Apocalypse Now anymore. Though Coppola’s treatise on the Vietnam War has come to be hailed as one of the greatest anti-war films of all time, it was also the film that began his career descent (and quite steeply at that). It’s still not uncommon for a studio film’s production to be troublesome for a range of reasons (just ask Josh Trank) but the production of Apocalypse Now was so legendarily disastrous that an Emmy-award winning documentary was made about its production, Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, which chronicles how the demands of not only Coppola’s ego but also of nature and foreign governments led to a production mired in the loss of time, money, relationships, physical and mental health, and even life. Nearly 4 decades removed from its release, it’s a bit easier to appreciate the film that resulted (Apocalypse Now) and the film that Coppola initially intended (Redux), both of which have been available since June 1st.
Primal Screen (Shudder): Shudder has been making a name for itself for delivering you some of the best pre-existing horror content from all around the globe since its inception but with Primal Screen, AMC’s horror streaming service has dipped its first toe into the pool of original, exclusive content. Primal Screen is a documentary series from the mind of Rodney Ascher (Room 237, The Nightmare) that “explores how individuals are simultaneously attracted to and repelled by what scares them most.” Making a Murderer, The Jinx and The Messengers have shown that there’s an eager audience for documentary series, but whereas those shows focus on real-life narratives that elicit certain reactions and responses in us, Primal Screen’s interest is in the pop-culture artifacts that terrify us and goes even further as to ask why we keep coming back to them. Shudder’s first foray into original programming began streaming on June 8th.
Other Notable Titles Arriving: Blow Out (Amazon Prime/Hulu, June 1), City of Gods (Ciudad de Deus) (Amazon Prime, June 1), Gone Baby Gone (Amazon Prime, June 1), Magnolia (Amazon Prime, June 1), I Am Not Your Negro (Amazon Prime, June 2 – 12), Paterson (Amazon Prime, June 17 – 30), David Lynch: The Art Life, Amazon Prime, June 17 – 30), Star Trek Beyond (Amazon Prime/Hulu, June 17 – 30), The Conjuring (HBO Now, June 1), The Conjuring 2 (HBO Now, June 17 – 24), Orange Is the New Black: Season 5 (Netflix, June 9), Young Frankenstein (Netflix, June 1), The Ides of March (Hulu, June 1), 13 Assassins (Hulu, June 7), The Strain season 3 (Hulu, June 16)
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.
Twin Peaks: Seasons 1 & 2 (Netflix/Hulu/Amazon Prime): If you have never watched Twin Peaks before, then I’m sure in recent weeks you’ve been inundated with ads for it, enthusiasm around it, and reviews about it. If any of the buzz around the show has led you to become even the slightest bit curious about who killed Laura Palmer, what The Black Lodge is, or why there’s a little man talking backwards (none of which are easily answered, if at all), then now is as good a time as any to join the conversation since the first two seasons of the show are available on all 3 major streaming platforms. Twin Peaks was unlike any other show when it aired in 1992, its reception paving the path for later shows like The X-Files and Wayward Pines. When you’re done watching, then head over to Showtime and sign up for the free 30-day trial where you can catch up on the latest season.
Room 237 (Shudder): If the name “Rodney Ascher” in conjunction with Primal Screen didn’t excite you, then you need to get excited by watching Room 237, his feature length documentary about the various interpretations that viewers have of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Theories range from the bizarre (it’s an allusion to the Minotaur’s maze of Greek mythology) to the eerily plausible (spatial dimensions of the hotel purposely don’t make sense), but the biggest takeaway isn’t how crazy or lucid the various interviewees might be, but how Kubrick created a piece of art that, despite literally not changing at all since its release, has stood the test of time by containing some collection of intangible elements that have waxed and waned accordingly for the people who have watched them leading to vastly different conclusions being drawn from the same evidence.
The Bay (Shudder/Amazon Prime): I think it’s safe to say that the found footage craze has died down with audiences finally catching on that filmmakers weren’t really doing anything new with the subgenre. When it was at its peak, seemingly anyone with a camera was trying their hand at the low budget, voyeuristic visual form. But it wasn’t just newcomers who were trying to make a name for themselves that were dabbling in found footage; with The Bay, we saw that established industry vets also wanted to try their hand at this new artistic expression and that – wouldn’t you know it – they were good at it too. Barry Levinson (Good Morning, Vietnam, Rain Man, Bugsy) directed The Bay in 2012 and made a found footage film that horrified audiences by basing its scares in real-life ecological dangers and also by being one of the few found footage horror films that was able to effectively explain its omnipresent camera.