Friday, June 11, 2021

Lockdown DVD Fest: Closing Night (for reals)

If you've selected the best remaining DVD that you borrowed from the library for what may be the closing night of your lockdown DVD festival, when that festival extends a night, all you have left are the leftovers.

Fortunately, Honey Boy placed a close second to Wild Rose as my original selection for a closing night film. 

And Thursday night's viewing really would be the closing night, as Rose's win for DVDs pushed the availability competition between DVDs and streaming to a 5-5 tie that had to be broken on night #11. You'll recall that DVDs were getting a point if the DVD I watched was only available for free to me that way, but streaming got a point if I discovered afterward that I didn't need to watch it on DVD because it was already available on one of my streaming services.

Honey Boy was for all the marbles.

But first, Alma Har'el's film.

As you probably know, it's Shia LaBeouf's script based on his own life experiences, taking place in two time periods: one when he's a 12-year-old just starting to make waves in the industry, and one when he's a young adult not handling the pressures of fame and needing to check into rehab. He's played by the fantastic Noah Jupe in the first set of scenes, and by the equally fantastic Lucas Hedges in the second. In fact, Hedges does such a good impersonation of LaBeouf that it was almost uncanny.

Of course, it's best to keep a small layer of artifice in place here, though I don't know if I've ever found the end credits disclaimer, about any resemblance to real people being unintentional, to be more disingenuous. This is of course based on his life and his own father -- who LaBeouf himself plays -- but in order to keep up the "inspired by" pretense, LaBeouf calls his character Otis. And though it's not called a Transformers movie that we see Otis shooting in the opening scene, the familiar off-screen sound of whirring robot parts makes as much of a connection as we need.

I was on board with LaBeouf's script from the very start, when we also get a montage of all the movies Otis is shooting, but I wasn't sure about his performance as Otis' dad. Or not the performance so much, but the makeup/costuming used to make the 32-year-old actor look like someone maybe ten years older than he is. He's been given a pot belly and this hair style where he's balding at the top but long-haired in the back, like a mullet gone bad -- excuse me, like a mullet gone worse. Here:

At first I was distracted by this. I was like "This is a guy who is essentially still a boy, playing dress-up as a man." But it didn't last. Since starting out as an impossibly charismatic child actor turned young adult actor who was always a good guy, LaBeouf has carved out a far more eccentric place in the film landscape in recent years, and he's capable of real menace. He can really discomfit you. This abusive, white trash father is menacing indeed, and also pathetic, and also possibly someone you can pity, while still being a monster.

By the end I thought it was a really good performance, made all the more impressive by the fact that it's his own father. That may have made the emotions easier to conjure, but also makes it extremely personal and triggering for him. I really appreciated the vulnerability, especially since one of the things that become off-putting about LaBeouf was his cocksure and ultimately aggressive persona -- which Hedges nails. Jupe also does his part showing the far more sensitive child he once was, though one who obviously had to grow up too fast, as his own father was giving him cigarettes at age 12. Because one of LaBeouf's biggest fears was that he would become his father, him actually playing the role makes that all the more profound.

As Otis and his dad live in a seedy motel in what must be one of the worst parts of the San Fernando Valley, I also got a bit of a Florida Project vibe from this film. There's a lot of parental neglect and some sense of the dynamics of a small itinerant community like this. The filmmaking was reminiscent of that film in parts as well. 

Overall the film really worked for me. I'm not familiar with the work of the director, Ha'rel, but she brings a real perspective and skill to the filmmaking. Ultimately, of course, this is LaBeouf's movie. I was glad never to find it self-indulgent, as that's a criticism that has also dogged the actor. With a few more right choices like this one, he seems poised to be the kind of guy who could make a full comeback as a proper adult and become something of a Matthew McConaughey. Maybe that's shooting too high, but I think LaBeouf may be transitioning from pariah into someone we can root for.

It's no secret I was rooting for DVDs to win this competition. Not that the results of this competition would ever be binding -- I'm free to watch DVDs whenever I want, regardless of whether those movies are available on streaming. Often, borrowing a DVD is an excuse to watch something that might be available on streaming, though you'd never have a specific occasion to choose it. Having it on DVD gives you that occasion. 

Still, I wanted DVDs to win.

Did they?

Yes. Yes they did.

Honey Boy was not available for streaming on Amazon, Netflix, Kanopy, Stan or Disney+, meaning if I wanted to watch it right now, it had to be through my local library.

6-5, DVDs take it.

Satisfying result, especially as DVDs had to come from behind to win. It was a back-and-forth affair, actually, as DVDs at one point had a seemingly insurmountable 4-1 lead before squandering the entirety of that lead by losing four in a row. Then it finished with two wins in a row to take it. Exciting stuff.

Now I wonder: Would the results have been different if I'd chosen one of my other remaining films as the closing night film?

I'll exclude rewatches as candidates. One of the movies I borrowed from the library was Crimson Tide, but I already rewatched that on streaming a couple weeks ago, which was one of the things that prompted me to do this festival. Then there was The Lighthouse, and any suspense related to that was ruined when I saw it available for streaming before I even considered watching it. The only other possible rewatch was Zulu, which I've seen only once and really loved, ten years ago when my older son was an infant. But we'll just leave that to the side.

The Testament of Orpheus (1960, Jean Cocteau) - I'd first gotten to know Cocteau as part of my Audient Auteurs series a couple years back, and I really liked what I saw. However, I never seriously considered watching this movie for this series as it's the third part in a trilogy that stretches 30 years, the other two parts of which I haven't seen. I think they are only loosely related and it's not necessary to watch them in order, but the uncertainty surrounding that left this on the sidelines.

Availability on streaming: None.

A Hidden Life (2019, Terrence Malick) - I'm (unfortunately) a Malick completist and this is certainly a "film festival type film," but the 174-minute running time was, and continues to be, a stumbling block for me. Plus, I'm sick of Malick's shit. 

Availability on streaming: Disney+ (weirdly)

Little Women (1994, Gillian Armstrong) - This could have been a strong contender given how much I loved Greta Gerwig's version of this film, my first exposure to the story, two years ago. But any time I looked at the spine of the DVD in my stack, I passed over it.

Availability on streaming: None.

So if I'd chosen A Hidden Life, the results would have skewed the other way. Thank goodness I am almost never in a position to watch a three-hour movie -- even during lockdown. (And my God, if Malick is self-indulgent in a 100-minute film, I can only imagine how tedious I would find this.)

So what are my takeaways from this?

In any random selection of movies from the library, I can expect about half not to be available on streaming. Of course, that only relates to this particular sample, but if I'm including Crimson Tide and The Lighthouse in the above computations, that's eight of 16 movies available on streaming, and eight not. I guess at this point we might as well do another tiebreaker with the 17th movie. Zulu is, in fact, available on Amazon Prime.

So streaming might have the slight advantage, but it's only slight. And because most of us have no idea what's actually available on streaming when we're browsing through the library options, unless we happen to have recently made note of a particular title, that activity is likely to bear at least some fruit, depending on how good the library collection is.

And let's turn our attention to that topic of "good" for a second. 

Here, let me provide you a list of the 11 films I watched again, in the order that I watched them:

The Wife
The Secret of Roan Inish
The New Mutants
First Reformed
Free Solo
At Eternity's Gate
The Other Side of Hope
On the Beach
Wild Rose
Honey Boy

Not a single one of those films did I give lower than three stars on Letterboxd. And only two of them were as low as three stars. So that means I liked all of them enough to recommend them. 

And it's reasonable to say that this may be the longest stretch of seeing films I liked in my own personal history. Since I also gave a positive review to the last streaming movie I watched before I started all this -- Cruella on Disney+ -- that makes 12 straight movies I gave a thumbs up. Tellingly, the last film I gave a thumbs down -- Army of the Dead, though it was a marginal thumbs down -- was on Netflix.

So it occurs to me that a good library collection is also curated to include mostly films of some worth. I'm sure there's plenty of schlock you can get from a typical library collection, but you're never going to find the dregs of the internet that you can get on streaming, and that you'll watch just because it's funny to watch something terrible. Viewings like that can be fun -- in fact, I can't wait to get to one tonight -- but if you're hungry for a cinematic meal rather than a fatty snack, borrowing DVDs gives you a better chance of getting one.

Ultimately, as I said earlier, the results of this little experiment are mostly academic. I'm sure I'll continue to borrow movies from the library as long as they keep providing them and as long as they continue replenishing them with titles I haven't seen. Fortunately, there will always be titles I haven't seen. And I probably would have kept borrowing from the library even if streaming had won this competition 10-1. 

In the end, it's good to know that streaming is not yet covering such a percentage of the landscape of films you'd want to watch that it feels like it could be your only solution.

I mean, it could be, but then you'd be missing out on some of history's great films.

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