Cross The Streams: Under The Dome And To The Red Planet We Go
Good streamvening, readers. I was away on vacation last week and wasn’t able to write a new installment of Cross the Streams, which was fine, since most streaming websites decided to give sci-fi releases a week off as well. In fact, I think they’re still on some kind of extended break, but we’ve got a handful of decent offerings for you guys, as well as a possible guilty pleasure or two. Of course, if you want to just skip all this and go watch The Avengers, which hit the streaming rounds in the past week, you’re more than welcome to. (Spoiler: the good guys win.)
Under the Dome (CBS)
Even though the small-town drama of CBS’ Under the Dome relies more on character tension than straight science fiction, we’ve been anxiously awaiting this thing for months here at GFR, and CBS was kind enough to pull the pilot episode from beneath the dome for everyone to see. Since it just premiered this week, we’ll avoid going into spoilers here, but just expect some changes from Stephen King’s original novel. I mean, it would be stupid not to do that anyway, but I’m just saying. It seems like the only things getting stuck on when this show comes up is that it was in The Simpsons Movie, so hopefully that blindingly unoriginal non-argument can cease to be now that the show is actually on the air. And F.Y.I., Amazon Prime will also be hosting episodes four days after they air, just in case you didn’t want to give CBS your personal attention. (But always give show writer/comic creator Brian K. Vaughan — along with anything he’s involved with — your attention.)
Branded (Netflix Instant)
Branded was the first English-language feature from Russian director Aleksadr Dulerayn and Jamie Bradshaw, and it suffered an initial backlash upon its release due to a promotional campaign that sold the movie as some futuristic, action-centric drama, when it was more or less an exercise in combining marketing cynicism with narrative batshittery. In a dystopian future, corporate brands are as omnipresent as the products they promote — so very different from our current times — and Ed Stoppard tries to unravel a conspiracy that goes all the way to the top. Incidentally, Max Von Sydow is at the top. Expect an uneven trip through theories on how advertising affects consumers and you probably won’t be disappointed. How about a Coke?
Red Planet (Redbox Instant)
2000 was a big year for ambitious movies about Mars that failed to live up to their potential, with both Antony Hoffman’s Red Planet and Brian De Palma’s Mission to Mars hitting theaters. While I actually enjoy the ambiguity of the latter film more, Red Planet is undeniably a more realistic film, at least within its own universe of non-realism, and the one that holds up at least as well as it did when it was released, which admittedly isn’t all that well. But I’m not here to apologize for it or call it out for its faults. I’m just here to watch Val Kilmer yell, “Fuck this planet!”
Bots High (Hulu Plus)
Don’t be swayed by the title: this isn’t a robot stoner movie. And while it sounds like a behind-the-scenes take on Battlebots or Real Steel, it isn’t quite that either, though it is better than both of those. Bots High tells the story of three high school robotics teams competing in a national robotics competition taking place in Miami. It’s a pretty solid little doc, taking viewers through both the process of building a competitive robot and some non-melodramatic aspects of teenage life, and it makes me wish I had gotten into building robots in high school. Am I inspired enough to get my own daughter into it? Maybe so, but I’ll probably forget about it by the time she’s a teenager. Damned robo-marijuana.
In Organic We Trust (Amazon Prime)
Another documentary for you guys, and this one is less sci-fi and more controversial, even though it doesn’t really present itself that way. Actually, it isn’t presented so much as cobbled together. As someone who isn’t behind the scare tactics that go into promoting organic foods as the only safe options on the planet, I thought this film might either sway my beliefs or assert them as just. Instead, both sides of the argument are shown in a general sense, while director Kip Pastor tries to get people to explain exactly what “organic food” really means, and no answers are landed on. This doc is mainly getting recommended as a means to start a conversation that provokes people to look into the evidence that this film seems to have left behind. How about that Coke now?
Blackenstein (Netflix Instant)
No, it isn’t as good as Blacula, and it probably isn’t as good as 90% of the films out there that have a Frankenstein monster at their center. But dammit, some of the performances are just lousy with camp value, and it’s a black Frankenstein! By no means should this film be watched alone or with any intentions on losing yourself in a narrative. But the name alone should have clued you in on that.
Extinction (Netflix Instant)
Obligatory German zombie movie time! While its generic cover and colonized title that includes “The G.M.O. Chronicles” might turn you away from Extinction, Niki Drozdowski’s directorial debut is worth your time, if only for the direction itself, which looks quite good for what is mainly a straight-to-streaming movie. But there are a few good ideas lurking around with all these mutating zombies — the product of a retrovirus that allows for the genetic crossbreeding of animals, humans, and plants. Funky-looking creatures unite! It ain’t art, but it’s better than most cheapo American zombie trash.
And there you have it, folks. Quite a varied bunch up there, isn’t it? We don’t need Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Hemsworth flying around like fairies in order to have a good time, do we? But we do need Who Framed Roger Rabbit, which just hit Netflix. See you next time and thanks for reading!