Crossing the Streams: September 2018, 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
Summer seriously needs to look at the calendar and realize that October is just around the corner because I’m getting sick of merrily leaving my apartment expecting to walk into a hint of fall only to be slapped in the face and rudely reminded that 74 doesn’t feel at all like 74 when there’s 1000% humidity attached to it. Still, I suppose that I should savor my air conditioning for as long as I can, because the sooner I turn it off, the sooner I get to hear the raucous and frequently inebriated crowds cheering on the spectacle of Roger Goodell’s propaganda machine churning on. For now, the AC is helping me drown out the televised CTE factory as are these titles, which will soon be packed away just like my window cooling unit.
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (Hulu): Even with a media landscape obsessed with bringing back past properties that no one really asked for, the long-rumored third installment of the Bill & Ted franchise is still far off from being a sure thing despite the recent Keanu Reeves renaissance. Before Reeves was John Wick, John Constantine, Don John (I’m catching a pattern here…) or Neo (there we go), he was Ted “Theodore” Logan, a simple high-schooler who needed to pass History class so bad that he was seeking answers anywhere. It’s not just the academic fate of Ted and his best friend, Bill S. Preston Esq. (Alex Winter), at stake, but also the fate of the entire future. If the two friends don’t pass, they’ll never get to form their band, Wyld Stallyns, whose music has led to a utopia in the year 2688. So, with the help of Rufus (George Carlin) and a time traveling phone booth, the pair set off into the past to collect historical figures to help with their final history report. On paper it’s an exceedingly dumb premise, but Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure is tons of fun because it’s sense of ridiculousness never goes too far as to be absurd (a crime of which its sequel is guilty). Despite its light-hearted approach to the complex matter of time travel, the film is arguably also the most realistic depiction of its (hypothetical) effects. If you wait until after September 30th, the film will disappear like Ted’s chances of attending Alaskan military school.
Alien Quadrilogy (HBO Now): With the exception of Peter Jackson, there’s probably no filmmaker who typifies “you’re your own worst enemy” better than Ridley Scott, who has worked so hard to unravel the legacy he spawned with Alien with his work on the lackluster Prometheus and Alien: Covenant (for the sake of this argument, we’re ignoring the AvP installments). Had he not insisted on steering the franchise into aggressive mediocrity, then there’d be less tarnish on the Alien Quadrilogy, a 4-piece of films that, despite eventual studio interference, were still showcases for some of the most visionary directors who brought personal touches to each installment: Alien (Ridley Scott), Aliens (James Cameron), Alien 3 (David Fincher), and Alien: Resurrection (Jean-Pierre Jeunet). Sure, Fincher has disowned Alien 3, the film that almost killed his directing career before it began and Jeunet was the wrong director to interpret Joss Whedon’s script for Alien: Resurrection but what the Quadrilogy has that the later installments lack is a sense of the films’ evolution or change as the narrative moves into different times and universes. Scott may have brought some consistency to the franchise, but it’s of the cookie cutter variety, protecting the films from taking any creative risks. Sadly, with a combined global gross of over $640 million, Scott will be steering the ship into the future, so if you want to spent some time in the past, head over to HBO before September 30th.
The French Connection (HBO Now): It might be hard to believe if you’re only judging from his recent cinematic output but William Friedkin was once one of the greatest directors alive. His one-two punch of The French Connection and The Exorcist is arguably the greatest back-to-back achievement in the history of American cinema, both films receiving Oscar nods for Best Picture and Best Director, with The French Connection winning both. These days, people seem to talk more about The Exorcist but, contextually, The French Connection was the more audacious production of the two considering that Friedkin didn’t yet have a little gold statuette to justify his insane decision to shoot an epic car chase through the streets of New York City without permission or permits. The film is a time capsule, the kind of cop drama that probably wouldn’t catch on today because its grit and ambivalence towards morality would not prove popular with audiences that are largely growing disillusioned with police forces that appear to be above the law. It’s also a damn good film. As Roger Ebert said, “‘The French Connection’ is as amoral as its hero, as violent, as obsessed, and as frightening.” On top of all of that, it is also expiring on September 30th.
Other Notable Titles Expiring:
Amazon: Shutter Island (9/23), Carrie 1976 (9/29), Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1978 (9/29), Spaceballs (9/29), American Psycho (9/30), Babel (9/30), The Brothers Bloom (9/30), The Crow (9/30), The Graduate (9/30), Hoosiers (9/30), Insomnia 2002 (9/30), Mulholland Drive (9/30), Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (9/30), V for Vendetta (9/30), Witness (9/30)
HBO Now: Die Hard – Die Hard with a Vengeance (9/30), Logan (9/30), Kindergarten Cop (9/30), Waterworld (9/30), X2 (9/30)
Hulu: Bound (9/30), Halloween H20 (9/30), Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back (9/30), Mimic (9/30), The Rock (9/30), This Is Spinal Tap (9/30)
Netflix: The Imitation Game (9/28)
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 hopefully is not the case for this humidity.
Groundhog Day (Netflix): Film fans tend to waffle if you ask them their favorite film but that’s not the case with me. That hasn’t been the case with me for a long time. For well over a decade my answer to the question “what’s your favorite film” has been Groundhog Day, the 1993 film written by Danny Rubin, directed by the late Harold Ramis, starring Bill Murray. I won’t take this space to go into detail about why I love the film so much (I’ll let this space do that instead), so suffice it to say that I find it a masterpiece of comedic timing that ultimately starts with the deceptively brilliant script from Danny Rubin. The film ensured that what was once a joke of a holiday is now immortalized in memes on your social media feed all through February 2nd, most of which revolve around Phil’s (Bill Murray) interactions with one of the greatest supporting characters of all time, Ned Ryerson (Stephen Tobolowsky). If you love the film as much as I do, then you owe it to yourself to hear from Ned’s own mouth about how he ended up involved in the film by listening to the episode “The Classic” from The Tobolowsky Files. Thanks to Netflix, you can relive Groundhog Day again and again just like Phil Connors did because it’s been available since September 1st.
Black Panther (Netflix): The Best Popular Film Oscar is dead. Long live the Most Popular Film Oscar. Before the Academy of Motion Picture Art & Sciences realized that they devised arguably the stupidest idea in a long history of stupid ideas, speculation ran rampant that AMPAS had devised the award as a surefire consolation prize for Black Panther, the second-highest grossing film of the year that was universally loved (almost). Co-writer/director Ryan Coogler was handed the keys to the kingdom after Creed and he took along some past collaborators–co-star Michael B. Jordan and composer Ludwig Göransson–to help bring that kingdom, Wakanda, to life. The result was a tentpole franchise film that broke the mold of what came before, reveling in a diversity and culture that had barely been touched on in past superhero films and that had certainly not been embraced as widely and emphatically before, making Black Panther the highest grossing film directed by an African-American in history. Infinity War may be the bigger moneymaker for the year, but Black Panther seems like it’ll have the longer lasting legacy. “Wakanda forever!” has been the cry on Netflix since September 4th.
A Wrinkle in Time (Netflix): After the weekend of March 9, 2018, for the first time in history the top two films at the box office were directed by African-Americans. The top spot belonged to the aforementioned Black Panther while number two belonged to Ava DuVernay and A Wrinkle in Time, Disney’s big budget adaptation of the popular Madeleine L’Engle novel. With her hiring, DuVerney became the first African-American female director to be given a budget north of $100 million. As someone who had already proven herself to be a skilled director of both features and docs and an outspoken advocate for representation in film, the job could not have been given to a more deserving filmmaker. Unfortunately, Black Panther’s fate would not be shared with A Wrinkle in Time, which saw a tepid-at-best critical response to go along with a box office intake that likely didn’t recoup its high budget. The film has its passionate defenders and it could be argued that even if it wasn’t financially successful, the benefit to future generations seeing lead roles go to non-Caucasians is immeasurable. It also certainly hasn’t slowed DuVerney down. She is following Coogler’s example in another way by recently signing on to direct a superhero film. A Wrinkle in Time will be available to stream on September 25th.
Ghostbusters & Ghostbusters II (Amazon): I’ve got a Ghostbusters poster hanging in my living room. Vigo the Carpathian hangs over my bed. I named this blog “Crossing the Streams.” I know who I’m gonna call when there’s something strange in my neighborhood. We don’t really need to rehash the legacy of the original Ghostbusters – admittedly, a legacy somewhat tainted by Bill Murray’s past – but I do think that the legacy of Ghostbusters II deserves some re-examination. Coming out five years after the original, Ghostbusters II is often criticized as being a half-baked cash grab with a more absurd premise than the original (because a Sumerian god taking the form of a fictional marshmallow mascot in order to bring about the end of the world is basically Dziga Vertov material). However, in my opinion, supplementing the full returning cast with Dr. Janosz Poha (Peter MacNicol) as the Big Bad’s crony results in hilarity topped only by the amazing courtroom sequence, in which the Ghostbusters have to be represented by their bumbling tax attorney, Louis Tully (Rick Moranis). Sure, the film features a sequence in which a jubilant NYC crowd cheers on the Statue of Liberty as it marches through midtown, but it also contains arguably the scariest sequence of either film. Plus, who’s going to argue with more Ernie Hudson? When Vigo declared that “Death is but a door, time is but a widow. I’ll be back” I imagine he was forecasting streaming media and his imminent return on September 1st.
The Shape of Water (HBO Now): I’m not sure if you know this but I have a podcast and during this month, I’m covering Guillermo del Toro. Now that I’ve gotten that shameless self-plug out of the way, let’s talk about The Shape of Water, the 2018 film that saved us all from having to refer to Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri as “Best Picture Winner.” In all likelihood, The Shape of Water will eventually join Spotlight and Argo as Best Picture Winners that we forgot about, but as was the case with Martin Scorsese and The Departed, we were all so happy to see a beloved, talented filmmaker recognized by the mainstream even if it wasn’t for his best work. Social politics have always provided del Toro’s films with both subtext and context but The Shape of Water is the most literal translation of his embracing of the Other as beautiful and his condemnation of society as monstrous. He’s always spoken about embracing the marginalized and those outside the mainstream, sentiments that he spoke on again during his emotional acceptance speech. The film features standout performances by Sally Hawkins and Michael Shannon and reteams del Toro with past collaborators Doug Jones, who’s inside the Amphibian Man suit, and Dan Laustsen, who first teamed with the director on Crimson Peak. Giles (Richard Jenkins) closes the film wondering, “If I told you about her, what would I say?” You can answer that beginning September 22nd.
Phantom Thread (HBO Now): I just don’t think I’m a Paul Thomas Anderson guy. With the exception of There Will Be Blood, I find his films difficult to access and often emotionally unpleasant. The man has a dark sense of humor – Daniel Plainview made that quite clear – and he’s obviously very talented when it comes to directing his actors, but while The Master sits on my Blu-ray rack, I’ve made as little effort to rewatch it as I have made effort to seek out Inherent Vice. All this is to say that I might have been the only film critic that didn’t include Phantom Thread on a Top 10 list for 2017. Daniel Day-Lewis was phenomenal as always and I wish someone had told me sooner about the talent of Lesley Manville, but I left the theater feeling wholly confused as to why I should have been invested in the relationship between Reynolds Woodcock and Alma (Vicky Krieps). Just because I don’t understand the man or his films though, doesn’t mean that I begrudge anyone their love for him and if you were one of the many, many people who were disappointed that 2018 wasn’t the year that Anderson finally walked away with an Oscar, perhaps you’ll take some comfort in knowing that it’ll be available to re-watch over and over again on September 29th.
Other Notable Titles Arriving:
Amazon Prime: A Field in England (9/1), Chinatown (9/1), Dressed to Kill (9/1), Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (9/1), Sleepless in Seattle (9/1), The Amityville Horror 1979 (9/1), There Will Be Blood (9/1), Baby Mama (9/16), The Good Shepherd (9/16), Suburbicon (9/28),
HBO Now: Analyze This (9/1), The Fabulous Baker Boys (9/1), Goodfellas (9/1), Sherlock Holmes (9/1), The Greatest Showman (9/8), Pitch Perfect 3 (9/15)
Hulu: Adaptation (9/1), Blow Out (9/1), City of God (9/1), Emma (9/1), Field of Dreams (9/1), The Fly 1986 (9/1), Miracle on 34th Street 1994 (9/1), Rushmore (9/1), Searching for Sugar Man (9/1), Signs (9/1), Sixteen Candles (9/1), There Will Be Blood (9/1), Unbreakable (9/1), What Dreams May Come (9/1), The English Patient (9/2), I Love You, America: New Episodes (9/6), The Queen (9/15), Moonrise Kingdom (9/16)
Netflix: Bruce Almighty (9/1), King Kong 2007 (9/1), Scarface 1983 (9/1), The Breakfast Club (9/1), Unforgiven (9/1), Lilo & Stitch (9/2), The Emperor’s New Groove (9/2), Iron Fist Season 2 (9/7), American Vandal Season 2 (9/14), BoJack Horseman Season 5 (9/14), Role Models (9/16), Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (9/16), The Witch (9/17), The Walking Dead Season 8 (9/23), The Hurricane Heist (9/26)
Showtime Anytime: Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (9/1), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (9/1), The Hurt Locker (9/1), Pitch Black (9/1), Rescue Dawn (9/1), Traffic (9/1), Kidding (9/9), Moonrise Kingdom (9/16)
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.
Tickled (HBO Now): David Farrier’s exploration into the world of “competitive endurance tickling” started out as a television report for a New Zealand show that focuses on “quirky and odd stories” but when he was repeatedly harassed online and had his sexuality attacked by a representative from Jane O’Brien Media, things got personal (and strange). Suffice it to say, Tickled is only ostensibly about “competitive endurance tickling,” which may or may not actually exist depending on who you ask. According to the late David D’Amato, the sport is a “passionately and exclusively heterosexual endurance activity,” but to others, such as past participants and people who knew the litigious D’Amato, the “sport” is just an excuse for participants to unwittingly star in fetish porn that satiated the man’s own perversions. D’Amato passed away in 2017, but the legal war that he waged on Farrier and the filmmakers has not slowed down.
Addendum: If you watch Tickled or have already seen it, be sure to also search HBO for The Tickle King, a twenty-minute short doc that catches you up on what happened to the filmmakers after the release of the feature.
The Institute (Amazon): Marketing material for The Institute would lead you to believe that the “Jejune Institute” was a real-life alternate reality game in which over 10,000 residents of San Francisco participated, some of whom believed it to be more reality than game. That’s not exactly accurate–most of the participants interviewed for the doc seem to recognize they were involved in a far-reaching social experiment–but The Institute is a fascinating look at how interacting and engaging with the world around you in a different way–such as an immersive game–can lead to a different perspective on and appreciation for the day-in, day-out reality. Yes, there was a space setup in a downtown San Francisco that would “induct” people into a campaign against “Nonchalants” that combined elements of scavenger hunts with interactive theater and no one really seemed to have a grasp on the end goal (including the creators) but more interesting to me than the “what” of the game was the “why,” which seems to have been a cathartic way for creator Jeff Hull to deal with the still unsolved disappearance of a former friend.
Explained (Netflix): “I need something quick to watch before I go to bed,” I told myself one night last week. “I’ll turn on Explained. The episodes are short and won’t keep me up,” I justified. How silly of me. Over an hour after turning on the docu-series from Vox Media, I had blown through their episodes on “The Racial Wealth Gap,” “Monogamy,” “K-Pop,” and “Cryptocurrency.” Using celebrity narration (Maria Bello, LeVar Burton, Aasif Mandvi), insider interviews, and infographics, Explained attempts to, well, explain the historical and social context behind many hot button and influential global forces in short, easily digestible episodes. Does the stock market really reflect the country’s financial health? Why are diets often so unsuccessful? Why is cricket so popular and how did it get that way? These are just some of the answers that the show explores in its weekly installments, all of which should be available by the time you’re reading this.
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: Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, Casino, The Descent, Ghostbusters, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, Moonrise Kingdom
Amazon Prime: The Witch