What’s To Be Watched When Locked In Place

Well, here I am, sheltering at home with the cat and trying to read Paradise Lost because I never read the whole thing way back in college, and right now I figure I have the time.  However, Milton suffices only so far for shut-ins, homebodies, and shelterers-in-place.  About a week or so back I sent an email to a few also-sheltering co-workers who, like me, subscribe to the free Internet movie-streaming service Tubi, recommending some films on it for them to watch.  Because, let’s face it, there’s only so much work one can do from a small apartment, and the cat didn’t seem interested in what I was viewing.  (Her response is pretty much a yawn and a tail flick.  Cute but not encouraging.)

Anyway, after receiving a vast, positive response from my office colleagues to this communication (thanks very much to the two who answered!), I’ve expanded it into a post for my Grand Old Movie readers who, like me, are probably also, in the words of T.S. Eliot, looking to be “Distracted from distraction by distraction” (once I get through Paradise Lost, I may start on Burnt Norton).  I’m not shilling for Tubi here, but the service IS free (totally), which is a big plus for someone whose income falls far short of Bloomberg-like proportions.  Tubi’s film library is also large and varied, so one can sure to find something to view.

So, if you’re looking for something to watch on Tubi while trying to keep from climbing the walls (cabin fever, anyone?), I’ve listed here a selection of films on that service that might amuse, entertain, and pass the time (or at least spare your rooms).  All these Tubi-fied films have been personally vetted by ME and are offered to you with my personal viewing recommendation (for what that’s worth).  I’ve broken the list down into categories of Thrillers, Dramas, Horror, and Schlock because, oddly enough, that’s what I’ve been watching:

THRILLERS – Because we can all do with a mental rollercoaster ride when coach-potatoed in place –

Marauders (2016):  A fun, mindless action thriller, with lots of shootouts, shoutouts, and actors looking tense.  A group of enigmatic thieves (wearing very cool masks) is robbing the branches of a bank owned by enigmatic CEO Bruce Willis (wearing very cool suits), while the chief FBI investigator (good performance by Christopher Meloni) finds himself stymied by local police, a stonewalling Willis, and his own barely digested grief over his dead wife.  The thieves also use this odd (and also very cool) device during their robberies, a small rotating disc that speaks with a recorded voice (“take out your cell phones and we won’t shoot you,” it promises; most reassuring)—kind of like a Siri-packing Roomba, except it doesn’t clean.  Lots of fast editing, fast bodies, jump shots, jump cuts, and silvery-metallic cinematography that will hold your attention.  Good to watch on a Saturday night with popcorn and beer (though anything is good to watch with popcorn and beer).  Don’t think while you watch and you’ll enjoy.

The Limey (1999):  Another thriller, one in a melancholy vein (rather like Get Carter), about an aging career criminal seeking revenge for his daughter’s murder.  The film follows the dogged pursuit of its title character, an old-school Cockney out of place in late-20th-century Los Angeles, but it’s also a meditation on the stark, gorgeous-boned features of its star, Terence Stamp.  The film intercuts scenes of the then-current 1999 Stamp with scenes from his 1967 film Poor Cow; and you marvel at his facial transformation, from the louchely soft, baby-faced beauty of the 1960s to the pared-away flesh and bone of the late 1990s, the contours as spare, beautiful, and bleak as the face of an Etruscan god.  Beautifully directed by Steven Soderbergh, and starring another 1960s icon, Peter Fonda, whose face also had a set of remarkable bones.

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call, New Orleans (2009):  Never mind the clunky title, this is an excellent movie—a  free-wheeling, surreal look at crime, police work, and the craziness of life glimpsed through a medicated haze.  The plot focuses on a New Orleans police detective (the great Nicolas Cage at his Cagiest, and you know what that means) investigating a series of murders while dealing with police corruption (mainly his own) and assorted health issues that drive him into a pill-popping, drug-snorting frenzy.  Directed in typical hallucinatory style by Werner Herzog (check out the great, loopy bit with the iguanas), it’s lots of wild fun.

Flawless (2008):  Also a thriller, but this one depends less on shoot-outs and chases and more on mood, character, and subtle scheming.  Taking place in early 1960s London, it’s about an ambitious single woman (Demi Moore, very good) who, working at a high-level position in a diamond merchant firm and encountering prejudice from her (all-male) co-workers, strikes an unlikely alliance with an elderly janitor (Michael Caine, very adorable) to get back at the controlling elites.  Good examination of the issues women face in the workplace; also an excellent recreation of the early 1960s era (note the hairstyles and fashions).  The film doesn’t seem well known, but I enjoyed it.

Tears of the Sun (2002):  Another Bruce Willis thriller, though this one is much more serious in tone.  It takes place in a war-torn African country, in which a group of American special-ops soldiers (led by Willis), on a restricted mission to rescue an American doctor, must decide whether or not to defy orders and lead a group of refugees to safety.  The tension builds up slowly but doesn’t let you relax; and the film examines the choices, both practical and moral, these soldiers must make on the battlefield.  It got mixed reviews on release, but I thought it well done and gripping, with a suitably grim performance from Willis.

Grand Piano (2013):  Back to mindless fun.  Taking place in ‘real time,’ the film is about a stage-fright-afflicted classical pianist (Elijah Wood) who finds out during a concert that he’s being targeted by a sniper (John Cusack) demanding he better give a note-perfect performance—Or Else.  Director Eugenio Mira adroitly manipulates audience reactions; the many shots of Wood’s huge, panicked blue eyes, as he tries to discover where his tormentor is hiding, will make you laugh but also identify and panic with him (albeit from a safe distance).  The underlying meaning of it all may be how we deal, during the creative process, with that constant, carping Critical Voice inside our heads.  Gimmicky but well done, entertaining to watch despite (or really because of) its implausibility.  Another good popcorn-and-beer flick.

DRAMA – Because some of us want something more intelligent to watch with our popcorn and beer –

Coriolanus (2011):  Shakespeare meets the Action Thriller (a nice transition) in a modernized version of the Bard.  Ralph Fiennes directs and stars in the title role in this (severely cut) adaptation of Shakespeare’s late tragedy, probably his most political play, about a patrician Roman soldier’s ambition, pride, betrayal, and his struggle on whether to pander to the masses or remain true to his (rather nasty) self.  In updating the action to a vaguely 21st-century dictator-ruled Rome, Fiennes not only recostumes/resets the plot but rethinks it for the modern era; scenes, for example, of blue-suited TV newscasters reporting the news in blank verse are not only clever but telling (and is a practice I think should be adopted by all news shows immediately).  While I would quibble with the director’s too-emphatic use of extreme close-ups and lame gun battles, I can’t argue with the acting, particularly Vanessa Redgrave’s performance as Volumnia; she gets to the core of how this woman’s ferocious ambition, seething under a well-bred veneer, leads to her son’s ruin.

A Man of No Importance (1994):  Very much a change of pace from thrillers.  It’s a character study, taking place in 1963 Catholic Ireland, of a middle-aged, deeply closeted gay man (Albert Finney) trying to stage an amateur production of Oscar Wilde’s play Salome while dealing with the constraining prejudices of his time as well as his own half-articulated frustrations.  The film recreates its era well, and it’s both sweet and sad in tone, with a heartfelt performance from Finney; a must for his fans.  Plus lots of quotes from the works of Oscar Wilde.

Becket (1964):  This was one of my favorite movies when I was a teenager (somewhere back before the first Ice Age); how well it holds up for you now may depend not only on your taste for historical drama but on your ability to follow medieval religious disputes.  The film is stately and slow-moving but absorbing in its tale of how an English archbishop defied his king for the honor of God and the salvation of his soul.  Anchoring the film are the performances by Richard Burton as Becket and Peter O’Toole as King Henry II; the former is grave, solid earth in contrast to the latter’s high-strung, neuroticized quicksilver.  Burton especially is remarkable; he grounds his performance in small shifts of mood and thought, conveyed through restrained voice and gesture and deep-thinking eyes.  If you like watching two king-sized actors at their height of their careers, then this is for you.

A Different Loyalty (2005):  A fascinating, fictionalized (with changed names) depiction of the marriage of Kim Philby and Eleanor Brewer, his 3rd (American) wife, and drawn from her book.  For those who don’t know, Philby was probably the most infamous spy and double agent of the Cold War, a British intelligence officer who passed so much secret information about Britain and its allies to the Soviet Union that he pretty much destroyed British overseas operations.  The film, however, focuses on Brewer, impressively played by Sharon Stone, who lives happily with her (presumed) journalist husband until he abruptly disappears, with no word of warning, only to show up in Moscow 10 days later revealed as a defector and an officer in the KGB.  Brewer herself experienced (frightening) harassment from the CIA, while unsuccessfully persuading her husband to defect back.  Stone’s performance is a revelation—a sensual actress at heart, she sinks into her character without flash or heavy dramatics, giving you a sense of this woman’s contentment, physical, emotional, and sexual, in her married life, only to have it wrenched upside-down and sideways; she moves seamlessly from happy to distressed to bereft to confused to challenged to challenging to anger to outrage and then to a flat decision to remake her life.  A great bit has her meeting her husband in Moscow and seeing his dump of an apartment—is THIS why you deserted your family?, she screams. The film was never released in the U.S. but it’s probably the best work of Stone’s career; if for nothing else, see it for her.

HORROR – Because it’s always a good time to watch Horror –

Triangle (2009):  A different, dream-like, psychological horror thriller, kind of in the style of movies like Memento, though more uncanny and ‘supernatural’ in its story.  A young woman (Melissa George) and her friends on a yachting trip are caught in a storm (in the Bermuda Triangle, of all places), and are forced to take shelter on a suddenly appearing ocean liner.  That in itself is weird; but, once all are aboard and they find fresh food but no passengers, things get weirder.  And just when you think it can’t go any further, everything then gets Very, VERY Weird.  I won’t give anything away, but the plot depends on time shifts and scene repetitions, and you’re left to decide what it’s about.  Maybe not for all tastes, but interesting and strange; the kind of film it would be fun to start a (socially distanced) Facebook group with friends to analyze and debate its meaning(s).

Alice, Sweet Alice (1976):  A horror flick more in the fashion of good, old-fashioned, gory, echt-1970s horror, and which has become a cult item.  It’s low budget but stylish and well done.  Taking place in a New Jersey town in the early 1960s, it concerns a series of murders connected with the local Catholic church.  All that’s known about the killer is that this person dresses like a little girl and wears a blank plastic mask (very disturbing).  The film’s visual and editing style has been compared to Italian giallo horror thrillers, especially in its vivid use of color; but its look at off-kilter family dynamics is distinctly American.  Featuring the film debut of 12-year-old Brooke Shields.  Highly recommended for horror fans.

Dog Soldiers (2002):  Werewolves are afoot in the Scottish highlands in this terrific horror thriller, and they ain’t Man’s Best Friend.  A British army squad conducting training exercises in Scotland finds itself attacked by at-first unseen assailants.  Hint:  They’re furry, four-footed, and mean.  Then things get really hairy.  It’s the conventional horror plot of a tight-knit group of people being picked off one by one in escalating gory fashion, but the film avoids the usual sad-doggy Larry-Talbot tropes and keeps the action fast, furious, and weirdly funny.  The cast is excellent, as are the practical/animatronic effects; what a relief to watch something solid.  Another great choice for a popcorn-and-beer Saturday night.

The New Daughter (2009):  Kevin Costner is a clueless divorced father who moves out to the middle of nowhere in South Carolina with his small son and on-the-cusp-of-puberty daughter.  Once settled in, he and his children encounter…strange things.  Adapted from a short story by John Connolly, the film is one of those family-in-crisis horror tales, enhanced by its creepy setting (this large, empty house in the woods, with this large, not-empty tumulus mound nearby) and a what’s-out-there? atmosphere (there are…strange things lurking in those woods…).  The story examines a real-life struggle many parents face—your children turn into ‘monsters’ once they hit puberty—and amps it up with the possibility that the kid is turning into a real monster.  Or something worse.  Co-starring Ivana Baquero, the lushly beautiful teenager who starred in Pan’s Labyrinth.  The film didn’t receive critical acclaim, but I liked it.

May (2001):  Another good, low-budget horror film; different, strange, unexpected, and unnerving, but also stylishly written and directed, by Lucky McKee.  The title character (very well played by Angela Bettis) is a solitary young woman who has problems making friends with people—until she decides to take matters into her own hands (literally) and ‘make’ her own friend.  The film is both horrific and surreal, but it’s also, beneath its coolly hip exterior, a study in loneliness, looking at how humans cannot form or maintain connections with each other, remaining isolated in their private hells (how particularly apt for this time!).  It manages to be ghoulish, funny, sad, and touching all at once; you won’t forget it.  I HIGHLY recommend this one.

SCHLOCK – because when isn’t it a good time to watch Schlock –

Evil Bong (2006):  Well, OK.  So I watched this movie about an Evil Bong.  More out of curiosity than anything else (honest!).  A Bong, in case you don’t know, is, per Wikipedia, “a filtration device generally used for smoking cannabis, tobacco, or other herbal substances” (more information, if needed, can be found here).  So now you know.  Anyway, this particular cinematic Bong has a lady’s face and a lady’s voice, and inside its bong basket it has a strip show going on with some more ladies, in unclothed states, and everyone who smokes from the Bong ends up inside attending the strip show, but how they all fit inside the thing is a question too deep to ponder.  The movie looks as if made for about a dollar-ninety-eight, and it features a game young cast, and the whole thing is played tongue-in-cheek, and I did laugh while I watched (and, no, I was not smoking any Filtration Devices while watching, though I’m sure it would not be inappropriate to do so), and Tommy Chong makes a cameo appearance, as the Bong’s owner, no less, so somebody making this film understood something.  Such was the power of this Evil Bong pic that seven sequels were made, and you can find them all on Tubi, along with a sidekick flick called Gingerdead Man Vs. Evil Bong, which sounds about as weird as anything you might find in the Bermuda Triangle.  I can assure you, though, that I haven’t seen any of these successor films, because you can only be so desperate to watch something.

However, I’m not passing judgment on anyone who is.

Sharktopus Vs. Pteracuda (2014):  Roger Corman produced this thing (surprise, surprise!), its making apparently spawned by the success of Sharknado.  Basically, the plot concerns Sharktopus (part shark, part octopus, totally questionable) and Pteracuda (part pterodactyl, part barracuda, ditto), who meet, get into a fight, and then keep battling throughout the movie, right to the finish.  Mostly the film’s an exercise in mediocre CGI, with some humans thrown in on the side on which to hang a smidgen of plot, which I wish I could summarize but I can’t, because I can’t figure out what it is, the humans just seem to be there, to distract periodically from the CGI.  But, like a shark, at least the flick keeps moving.  Silly but amusing, it won’t tax the brain cells, and I recommend eating lots of chocolate while you watch.  Because chocolate is good for everything.

As a side note, if you’re really into Shark Schlock (which sounds like its own genre), you might want to check out Tubi’s other shark-supportive titles:  Sharktopus Vs. Whalewolf; Mega Shark Vs. Crocosaurus; Psycho Shark; Shark in Venice; Raging Shark; 2-Headed Shark Attack; Raiders of the Lost Shark; Shark Killer (“Blood is Thicker in Water”); Shark Exorcist (“Satan Has Jaws”); House Shark; Sharknado–Heart of Sharkness; Avalanche Sharks; and Sharkanasas Women’s Prison Massacre, which, just as a title, deserves some kind of award.  And for the littlest shark fans in your family in need of entertainment, there’s Baby Shark–Nursery Rhymes & Kids SongsThat oughta hold ‘em!

Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies (2012):  Not to be confused with 1930’s Abraham Lincoln, starring Walter Huston and directed by D.W. Griffith, nor with 2012’s Lincoln, starring Daniel Day Lewis and directed by Steven Spielberg (not that I think anyone would).  It’s nearer in tone to 2012’s Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, which did just what that title said.  So does this film.  Honest Abe takes up his trusty scythe and goes head-whompin’ a passel of zombies roaming the countryside and making nuisances of themselves.  No more, no less.  Pat Garrett and a 12-year-old Theodore Roosevelt join in to help (the film plunders American history shamelessly).  The whole thing looks like it cost a buck-seventy-five to make, but everyone in the cast keeps a straight face, and Bill Oberst Jr. as one-half the title role (the bearded half) is actually pretty good.  And anyway, it’s free.  Park the brain, keep the chocolate nearby, and enjoy.

Reptilicus (1961):  The Danish version of a kaiju film, and I suppose only the land of Hans Christian Anderson could make such a genteel version of Godzilla.  The title character is this giant dragon-like lizard that’s dug out of the ice as a chunk of frozen flesh, and then regenerates itself in the lab before anyone notices.  Breaking free, the lizard—basically a long strip of rubber with a head and wings—proceeds to rampage through Copenhagen, wreaking havoc on anything that’s a miniature set, while the Danes flee in orderly fashion.  It’s hard to say how scary Reptilicus is; the beast spouts cartoon fire from its jaws and chows down on cartoon people, none of which looks terribly convincing.  Then there’s that several-minutes-long travelogue that pops up about 30 minutes into the film, taking us on a brief tour of Copenhagen’s municipal attractions; at which point I half-expected the cast to rise up in a rousing chorus of “Wonderful, Wonderful Copenhagen.”  My predicament in watching these drecky creature-feature efforts, as I noted in my earlier look at another such case, The Giant Claw (which, by the way, is also on Tubi), is that I start to become rather fond of the rubber-and-glue monster.  The faker it looks, the stronger my sense of attachment (how can anyone hurt what’s obviously a stuffed toy?).  As for your own feelings towards our scaly Danish friend, that may depend on how much beer, popcorn, and chocolate you’ve managed to consume by film’s end.

From Hell It Came (1957):  Finally, to wind up this survey, as a recommendation for those who like to watch stuff that’s REALLY Dumb and Schlocky (and I know you’re out there!), there’s nothing better (or, actually, worse) than this charming little item, a film SO bad it’s notorious (truly).  I remember first seeing this as a small kid, and it scared me witless (the aftereffects still reverberate…).  Now that I’m as ancient as England’s Major Oak, it’s a guilty pleasure, a pure snack-food-and-drink indulgence.  Ah, nostalgia.  The movie’s a zero-budget, B&W, badly made, schlocktastically funny tale about a group of scientists on a Pacific island that encounters a monster in the shape of a walking tree.  Said sapling, called the Tabonga, staggers through the plot like a plant that’s surfeited itself a bit too much on the popcorn and beer supplies, and is now desperately seeking some chocolate, any chocolate, for a change of pace.  As a stay-at-home chocoholic, I can certainly sympathize.

On a more positive note, it does go to show that, even if we can’t walk outside, at least the trees can.

Stay safe, be well, and happy viewing.

If you want to become a Tubi subscriber, you can sign up here – like I said, it’s completely free to watch (with a few ads).  As no-sweat as you can get.

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