Welcome to a shiny new edition of RUNNING ON STREAM. Sorry for the delay: this column is designed, quite purposefully, to be easy to do so that it can come out regularly. However, I have a new and wonderful aspect to my life, my beautiful daughter Maeve. She is a little over a month old, and is succeeding at teaching me how little I know about life and adulthood and how to accomplish tasks in the world. Still, I was able to jump on this very late edition of what is inscrutably my most popular writing effort because the northeastern region of the United States is, according to early reports, about to experience an unparalleled snow-pocalypse, so what better time for me to insert my picky opinions into your life as to what you should be watching.
This list is somewhat incomplete because there is one very important streaming service I do not have access to that many folks are finding quite amazing. So, apologies for having no Film Struck section in the column. This is not like Fandor, which I do have access to but has so much stuff on it I’ve never seen that I struggle to recommend things from. Film Struck is simply unavailable on Roku, so I haven’t signed up yet. I would love if they gave me a free hookup so I could write about them, but I will probably pay for it eventually when I can. Still, these selections are pretty good, so enjoy!
If you haven’t checked this out yet, you need to ASAP. The directorial debut of Macon Blair, star of the singular Blue Ruin, I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore is a film that manages one of the strangest tones I have ever seen. It is a dark comedy in some ways, but with some sincere and affective emotional moments. It is also in the tradition of gritty Crime Dramas that border on exploitation levels of ridiculous. Melanie Lynskey is and has always been one of the best, and in this film she brings something charming and intense to a character who could have been very slight indeed. Elijah Wood is maybe a bit too offbeat, a kind of running gag of a character, but it works and never ruins it. Besides, when the film isn’t making me giggle it is in fact very dark, and at times explosively violent. For people who enjoy quirky humor and very brief moments of explosions of gore.
I don’t know about you, but everything in our national political conversation is both depressing and empowering right now. I alternate between hopelessness at how forces of such despicable nature could come to power, and then enlivened that so many normally complacent folks are suddenly realizing how corrupt everything is. In a time like this I thrive on inspirational if also morose films. Those movies that tell the story of real life people working to change the world are, at their heart, always a bit melancholy right? They have to be, because we still live in a society defined and entrenched in oppression. Milk is a great case study of this, a true hero whose story is painful as well as inspiring. It is in many ways a small story, but it has impact for so many all over the world. If you haven’t seen it yet, it is exactly what you need right now.
This is one of those movies that I just assume people have seen, and when they haven’t I am irrationally surprised. Not everyone is excited at first at an independent documentary exploring the cutthroat world of drag balls, but trust me, this film is amazing. Folks who are marginalized will in fact make their own world, and yes many of the problems and difficulties that plague the normative culture still show up in these alternative communities, but who the fuck cares? The creation of whole beautiful cosmoses outside of the strict normative discourse is something beautiful to see, now and always.
I might be crazy on this one. I saw this on home video in ’99, and it began a bit of an obsession with Natasha Lyonne for me, one that I have never recovered from. The film struck me way back then as hilarious, sexy, and critical of some cultural and class stuff I was also dealing with. However, does that mean it is good? I can’t quite see this film past the crush for Lyonne, so honestly I am recommending it so that one of you will watch it and tell me if I am right on or full of shit on this one. Help me out friends, is this any good?
Later era Kurosawa does not get the respect it deserves. I am one of those: I own it. Yet, Kagemusha is an achievement in filmmaking, combining epic historic narrative with some interesting interpretive elements. It is unlike all of his earlier films, but somehow of a piece with his career as a whole. It represents a bit of a return for the director, but also a moment when folks were reminded of his brilliance. Watch it.
There is a certain kind of genre fan who prefers their narratives to be either supernatural or not, and when a film begins with one cosmology and then slips, either slowly or dramatically, into another, they get frustrated. I understand: at times when a film moves from a seemingly realistic view point into an extra-normal one it can feel like a cheap trick or a narrative failure. Unfortunately for those of you who feel this way, you are just incorrect. This film is perhaps a bit uneven and some of the performances are not what one might want; still I found the narrative interesting and the conceit charming and to be honest, I LOVE when films present as one thing and then reveal they are quite something else. If you end up hating this, sorry. My bad.
Combining mumble-core with a deep sense of nostalgia is perhaps a recipe for setting off folks’ deep seated cynicism. Still, the writing is solid, the humor and the drama holds up, and I just freaking love nerd stuff like this. Not the most original film, but entertaining through and through for me.
This film is neither a typical horror movie or vampire film. Thirst is more about cults, and the interesting things folks do because of belief. It is a bit trippy and psychedelic, but never quite abstract. There is a deep vein of satire here, though, so perhaps not for someone looking for something deeply scary. Instead, think something smart and cutting operating within the bounds of horror.
Have you ever seen a piece of satire, actually forget satire, lampooning, so intense that it just felt a little mean spirited? Well imagine that about the imperial tendencies of Vietnam Era US, ie: completely justified, and you might get the satisfaction of this film. It is heavy handed and harsh and even a bit goofy, but completely and totally satisfying.
This is a documentary about RYE COALITION after they signed with Dreamworks. It is intense and depressing but also super cool. I am not gonna sell you on this, either you know or you don’t. If you do know, then definitely watch this gem.
Doing a feature on films on Fandor and resorting to a European WWII drama is perhaps a little ridiculous. You knew this movie, even if you didn’t know it was THIS movie, was here. It had to be. However, Lore is actually good y’all. It follows five German children post war trying to survive, and it does it in a unique way that I really enjoy. Sure, it is heavy and dark and not an easy watch. It is entirely worth it though, I promise.
Dr. Black is a good and upstanding member of society who gives of his time and resources and helps those around him. He is also not only a doctor, but an experimental doctor who is working on a new serum. He makes one mistake: he tests it on himself. It transforms him into a hulking white beast who rapes and murders and runs wild. The metaphor is so obvious and ridiculous, but I giggled through the whole thing.
This was one of my favorite indy horror releases of last year and did not, in my estimation, get even a portion of the hype it deserved. I am not qualified to label this a “feminist” film, but it is a strongly feminine voice within a genre too often dominated by men and male vision. This abstract and engaging update of the “female psychosis” trope takes a different perspective on the tension between women in a patriarchal society. Also, it is super creepy.
This is not what you would call classic Stuart Gordon if such a thing exists. Perhaps I am being nostalgic by calling films like Re-Animator or From Beyond “classic”. What Castle Freak has that those films lack is one simple thing: Castle Freak is actually messed up. I am not sure I would go so far as to say scary, but it gets under your skin with its darkness and grime. There is something gross that completely lacks the fun and silliness of some of Gordon’s other projects. Castle Freak never really winks at the audience, and as such it is viscerally awful in the best possible way.
In this film, adult Peter Bark plays a child. There are also zombies (kinda) and lots of weirdness and gore, but this Peter Bark business is really the worst. That doesn’t sound like an endorsement but it is. You need to see this.
In some ways this is more of a thriller than a horror film, but it stars the magical Susan George, so it is entirely worth it. Even more importantly, this is a Peter Walker film. Yes, Frightmare Pete Walker, so you know it is weird and creepy and slightly unsavory.
This is literally the FIRST horror film ever made in Laos and only the second film directed by a Laotian woman, and it is about ghosts and gambling and deadly family issues. So don’t be an uptight xenophobe and watch this ASAP cause Mattie Do rules.