Noise An Arts Blog

Amazon You Wild Tho, WYD?: E-commerce behemoth's streaming options are really out here ready to disrupt the canon

City Paper

Seems like Amazon scoops up movies and shoves them onto the web so fast they can't necessarily keep track of, categorize, or provide cover art for what they've got streaming. Rush through the e-commerce behemoth's "Recently Added" Prime options and you'll see plenty of movies represented by just a title in white on an abstract dark background—an accidentally egalitarian move that makes Alan Clarke's corrosive skinhead study "Made In Britain," William Lustig's sub-"Dirty Harry," pseudo-"The Warriors" strut "Vigilante," and Ralph Bakshi and Frank Frazetta's viking bro-down "Fire and Ice" all equally appealing and mysterious.

OK, so sometimes a release date is totally wrong (two examples: 2016's "Killbillies" listed as 1970; 1980's "The Return," from 2016) or the version Amazon provides is stepped-on and dank (Joe Don Baker detective fumbler and MST3K favorite "Mitchell" has an obscure TV station icon in the corner and all the bad words omitted, while "The Long Hair Of Death," Antonio Margheriti's witchy freak-out starring Barbara Steele, streams via a shaky, faded transfer with audio so rough you'll think your ears popped), but still. Amazon Prime remains a respite from slicker, streaming #content from Netflix and Amazon's own more respectable arm of original programming, and seemingly screams "NERD" in the face of classy game-changer, Filmstruck. 

Briefly, let's talk Filmstruck, the Turner Classic-Criterion Collection okey-doke that has got the Film Internet going nuts. Scrolling through its hundreds of arthouse classics and foreign cinema deep cuts, I fear for tedious Tinder dates of the future, where Filmstruck and chill might be a thing. Its well of options is deep-ish though and beyond all the Bergman and Truffaut, there is: "Come and See," a Belarussian howl—and "Ivan's Childhood" corrective—that really does ask the question, "If you could kill infant Hitler would you?"; "Touki Bouki," a sometimes surreal story of escapism straight out of Senegal; "Tomorrow," just about the saddest movie ever made; and the diffident early crime movies of Takeshi Kitano ("Violent Cop," "Boiling Point," "Sonatine"). About as "low" as Filmstruck's willing to go with its selection is lonely hesher classic "Heavy Metal," which peaks when some space creatures' coke-sniffing session gets soundtracked by Don Felder, and the giddy, shticky, virtuosic "The Stunt Man." 

And there are problems with Filmstruck, which might as well be in Beta mode to be honest: You can't watch it directly on a television; its jazzy Javascript design doesn't let you open a description in a new tab or window; my fully updated version of Chrome doesn't let my Watchlist load, which Filmstruck tells me is a browser problem and tells me to click on a link that lists acceptable browsers, but clicking on that link gives you a big fat 404; and its bonus content, for now at least, is undercooked. The "Adventures In Moviegoing" series so far consists of comedian Bill Hader talking about his favorite movies, which is well, starfuck-y, and lame.

This is the kind of annoying shit that comes off as charming on Amazon Prime, where organizational half-assery is nearly trangressive—with a touch of web flaneur. An episode of something called "Sports Innerview" on Amazon Prime features Sylvester Stallone in a Planet Hollywood polo tucked into his khakis talking about golf—preferable to the guy who played Stefon on "Saturday Night Live" misreading "A Woman Under The Influence."

That said, Amazon housing exceptional scraps of cinematic crap and weirdness does not deaden the realities of Amazon, with its vicious factories or, um, "fulfillment facilities," that get us granola bars and dehumidifiers and Blu-Rays in less than 24 hours at physical store-wrecking low prices and alleged monitoring of its employees for maximum productivity and so on.

But this is America amid late capitalism, so you take what you can get, and where else can you get, say, such a massive stock of exhilarating '80s and '90s action fare: "Beyond The Seventh Door," a Canadian action dealie with the floppy logic of an NES side-scroller; 1990's "Payback" with Roger Rodd and Don Swayze (also titled "Nightfall" and listed as coming out in 1999 in a separate stream-able option on Amazon) wherein a Vietnam vet takes down some right-wing loons; "Balance Of Power," where Tae Bo bro Billy Blanks helps poor kids learn martial arts, at least until gangsters shake him down and shit gets real; "Lethal Games," a libertarian shoot em' up about communities getting justice on their own terms featuring Frank Stallone; and "Crisis" with a sullen, tubby Lacrosse butt sorta babe David Bradley riding a motorcycle on the cover and a scene where our hero throws an axe—like, throws it, like a shot put, like the bone in "2001: A Space Odyssey"—that hits a windshield and causes a baddie's car to crash and catch on fire.

These lunkheaded highlights are all spiritual trickle-down from recently resurrected "Samurai Cop" (also stream are two other movies by its director, Amir Shervan: "Killing American Style" and "Young Rebels")—the kinds of movies that feel like porno with all of the hardcore fucking taken out.

Recently, Amazon also got a glut of Italian crime, horror, and westerns, of the blunt and scrappy sort. All this Italian garbage enables a deep dive into the filmographies of directors Enzo Castallari and Lucio Fulci, two Italian auteurs who regularly mix hard, strong stuff-style craft and expressionistic whims, for better and worse.

From Castallari: scattered epic "The Heroin Busters," a stand-out for its Goblin score and fairly scuzzy shoot-up spot scenes that sit up there with "Christiane F". in their ugly, inviting decadence. Others from Enzo: "Keoma," "1990: Bronx Warriors," "The New Barbarians," and "Escape From The Bronx," an "Escape From New York" rip-off (and "1990: Bronx Warriors" sequel and another MST3K fave) that's all explosions and proto-Rob Liefeld mise en scene featuring Henry Silva (so much Silva on Amazon Prime right now) as a totalitarian cog scowling like an angry house cat the whole time.

From Fulci: "Contraband," a sleazy disco actioner with Fulci taking his total inability to tell a story "properly" and Edgar Allan Poe-esque free-associative scene-building horror steez to a cops and robbers picture, a few wounded, woozy westerns ("Four Of The Apocalypse," "Silver Saddle," "Massacre Time"), post-punk death-as-entertainment dystopic dude party "New Gladiators," pithy Poe adaptation "The Black Cat," and gregarious giallo "Don't Torture A Duckling." Not to mention, two of Fulci's best, "Zombie," wherein a zombie fights a shark set to the klonopin synth-pop of Fabio Frizzi, and "House By The Cemetary," which Wikipedia uncharacteristically nails when it summarizes critical responses to this terrifying, nonsensical movie with, "Time Out called the film 'a hack-work of almost awesome incoherence.' Allmovie praised the film, complimenting its atmosphere."

Get you a Lovecraftian muddle that can do both, you know?

And if you want to get about as far away from "Peak TV" as possible, Amazon Prime takes you there with: episodes of "Lancelot Link: Secret Chimp," '60s fall-out for kiddies featuring real life monkeys as spies and detectives and a trippy rock band too; and plenty of '80s TV movies including "Condor," starring the creepy pops from "Twin Peaks" Ray Wise as a cop in the future figuring out his new female cyborg partner after his male partner is killed—an interesting piece of chintzy sci-fi about grieving (kinda) and a staggering display of work-a-day '80s sexism all at once. How has the weird internet not uncovered and meme-ified "Condor"? .GIF the hell out of this, kiddos! There is also paratext anime epic "Robotech: The Macross Saga" (Netflix also has "Robotech" but watching it there just doesn't feel the same) and "Vincent," a televison special one-man show from 1981 wherein Leonard Nimoy plays Vincent Van Gogh.

Other Prime options nudge streaming closer to late night stoned-and-alone channel-surfing WTF discovery, another perk of Amazon's curatorial chaos: a bunch of basketball highlight compilations ("The NBA to Z Basketball's Best Highlights and Hijinx," "Best of the NBA Slam Dunk Contest," "NBA's 100 Greatest Plays," and so on) from the Michael Jordan era on into Allen Iverson's subsequent (and vital) anti-respectability reign; inexplicable instructional videos such as "Don't Hit the Dock - The Boaters Guide to Boat Handling & Safety" and "Tugging Through Time: New York Harbor Tugboats"; and until recently, episodes of "Talking Baseball," an awkward pause-packed, sports chat show hosted by reporter Ed Randall blabbing with baseball stars such as Brawny Paper Towels Man-lookin' Red Sox legend Wade Boggs and baseball insurgent and acid-dropping pitcher Dock Ellis ("Talking Baseball" isn't on Amazon anymore, and the odds that this will ever show up again are less likely than something slipping out of Netflix's streaming rotation, which adds some urgency to Amazon perusing for real).

So how long will our boy Jeff Bezos allow this anything-and-everything-and-see-what-sticks-method to keep going? So many options, no rhyme or reason to its organization, so much to stumble upon: Gordon Parks' lived-in "Leadbelly," maybe the closest we'll ever get to the inchoate vibes of Alan Greenberg's legendary, never-filmed Robert Johnson screenplay "Love In Vain"; "Dream Decievers," a pitiless documentary about the infamous Judas Priest subliminal messaging controversy and related suicide and suicide attempt; picaresque neurotic junkie tale "Born To Win" starring George Siegel; "Vicious Lips," from ecstastic heady hack Albert Pyun (best known for "Cyborg") that's like "Total Recall" mixed with "Berlin Alexanderplatz's" epilogue; Troma sore thumb "Combat Shock" that's kind of just "Suicide's 'Frankie Teardrop': The Movie"; "Messiah Of Evil," a stacking of sublime horror setpieces from the couple behind "Howard The Duck"; Charles Burnett's sort of documentary semi-essay "Nat Turner: A Troublesome Property," better and more oblique than "Birth Of A Nation" (also: not directed by an accused rapist!); "Kamikaze Hearts," a devastating Cassavetes-ian, porn-and-heroin vérité documentary about Sharon Mitchell; mercurial rockabilly biker flick and Willem Dafoe movie debut "The Loveless"; and "Love & Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere," a fervidly American and oddly inspiring movie, what for it being a doc about a loner college professor whose body was found bound to a tree with electrical cord, lit on fire and all.

For now, these wiggly standouts languish, Amazon-hosted hot messes waiting to be found that could fuck with the canon a little bit or, at the least, blow one mind out there. Whether or not subscribers will take advantage of this, well, that's on them. Film culture is such that it has either naively limited itself to what's on Netflix right now or it has become a tedious race to torrent the canon, because once you've seen all the Tarkovsky movies, you get to walk around as Reddit's cinematic Super Saiyan apparently. So maybe this willingness to scan the void is more ham radio than I think, but still, you can log on looking for something to watch and wander into some low-grade hicksploitation or an oft-ignored empathy-packed documentary relatively easily. Is that what these tech bozos mean when they talk of "disruption"? Probably not, but embrace it as a woolly byproduct of right now's too tasteful, all-streaming, all-the-time fiefdom while you still can.

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