Movie Streaming in the Year of the Pandemic

For most Americans, life, work and daily interactions with the outside world have been interrupted indefinitely and self-isolation at home is the new normal. How we fill those hours are a personal decision but even in the worst of times people need escapism. If you are an avid movie lover, you have a lot of options.

Hundreds of movies are available for free streaming from a variety of legal websites as long as you have access to a computer and a good Wi-fi connection. Below are a handful of options in no specified order for the more discriminating cinephile. These offer everything from classic Hollywood films to cult and indie fare to foreign language selections.  

Vudu.com

Vudu is a movie rental/purchase website but if you check out their free category you will see countless offerings of popular movies and TV shows. You will need to go through a simple registration process to access Vudu content and one to three ads may precede any title you select but the website is easy to navigate with free, rental and purchase options.  Contemporary classics like Bull Durham, The French Lieutenant’s Woman and Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo dominate the free selections but here are some of the more offbeat and unexpected titles you can experience.

Luchino Visconti’s 1948 neorealism masterpiece, La Terra Trema.

Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera (1929), a visually stunning essay on the city of Moscow, the 1914 Italian epic Cabiria and sex symbol Clara Bow in the romantic comedy It (1927) are among the outstanding silent era offerings in fine transfers from Kino Lorber Films. International cinema runs the gamet from Luchino Visconti’s neorealism masterpiece La Terra Trema (1948) to Belladonna of Sadness, the 1974 anime by Japanese director Eiichi Yamamoto to Michel Gondry’s Mood Indigo (2013), a quirky romantic fantasy with a dark side featuring charismatic French actors Audrey Tautou and Romain Duris.  Classic Hollywood is represented by such landmarks as Howard Hawk’s western Red River (1948) and Otto Preminger’s controversial The Man with the Golden Arm (1955) with Frank Sinatra as a heroin addict and there are some key film noir titles as well – He Walked by Night (1948) with Richard Basehard as a cop killer based on a real-life Los Angeles crime case, The Hitch-Hiker (1953), directed by Ida Lupino, and Phil Karlson’s Kansas City Confidential (1952).

Animal rights activist Timothy Treadwell is profiled in Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man (2005).

Among the more intriguing documentary films are Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man (2005), a tragic portrait of animal activist Timothy Treadwell, and Two in the Wave (2010), which chronicles the friendship and eventual rivalry between French New Wave directors Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard. Euro-trash and spaghetti western fanatics can cherry pick from cult favorites like Lucio Fulci’s Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972), a disturbing giallo featuring a child murderer on the loose and Sergio Corbucci’s highly influential Django (1966) with Franco Nero in the title role and a rousing score by Luis Bacalov.  Last but not least a wide range of indie films from around the world are available and two of my current favorites are Always Shine (2016), Sophia Takal’s thriller about two actress friends on vacation in Big Sur, and Easy Money aka Snabba Cash (2010), the first in an exciting three-part trilogy from Swedish director Daniel Espinosa about a compromised drug runner played by Joel Kinnaman. Best known for the lead role in the unnecessary 2014 remake of Robocop, Kinnaman deserves to be a bigger star on the basis of his work in Easy Money and the U.S. TV series The Killing (2011-2014), which was based on the original Danish TV crime drama, Forbrydelsen (2007-2012).  Tubitv.com

Here is a sprawling collection of movies that are ad supported and are broken down into more than 50 categories that range from Black Cinema to Films in Spanish to Martial Arts and more. Print quality is variable but there is no registration required and there are plenty of worth-viewing curiosities which flew under the radar during their original theatrical release.  The classic film selections tend to favor the western genre with entries like One-Eyed Jacks (1961), Santa Fe Trail (1940) and Stagecoach (1939) but there are plenty of other choices for fans of TCM like the historical drama Becket (1964), the 1940 fantasy The Thief of Bagdad, Anthony Mann’s terrific noir drama T-Men (1947) and the Oscar-winning British drama Room at the Top (1959) starring Laurence Harvey and Simone Signoret.  Horror and sci-fi fans will find plenty of campy delights – William Castle’s The Tingler (1959) with Vincent Price, Blood of the Vampire (1958), The Day of the Triffids (1963), etc. – and the exploitation genre is well presented by Dog Eat Dog (1964) featuring Jayne Mansfield and Cameron Mitchell, Devil’s Harvest, a 1942 anti-marijuana drama. Ed Wood’s The Violent Years (1956) and Johnny Cash as the Door to Door Maniac aka Five Minutes to Live (1961).  The most appealing aspect of Tubitv is the depth and range of their library which catalogues everything from David Holzman’s Diary (1967), Jim McBride’s underground satire of personal narrative filmmaking, to the New Zealand coming of age drama Whale Rider (1982) to Yorgos Lanthimos’s weird and unclassifiable Dogtooth (2009).

L.M. Kit Carson plays an underground filmmaker in Jim McBride’s pioneer indie feature, David Holzman’s Diary (1967).

Snagfilms.com

This website bills itself as a streaming service that specializes in socially relevant documentaries and independent cinema with categories like “Climate Change & the Environment,” “History Lessons,” and “Veterans & the Military.” Best of all, there is no registration process or ad sponsored content. You just select a title and start streaming.  Here you will find critically acclaimed offerings such as Marcel Ophuls’ Hotel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie, the Oscar-winning Best Documentary of 1988, The Atomic Café (1982), an entertaining compilation smash-up of cold war era propaganda films from directors Jayne Loader, Kevin Rafferty and Pierce Rafferty, and Michael Cuesta’s L.I.E. (2001), a tough, realistic coming-of-age tale with a young Paul Dano in his first starring role and Brian Cox in a superb performance as a suspected pedophile.

Charlie Chaplin and friend in the 1918 short, A Dog’s Life.

There are even some classic cinema titles such as Charlie Chaplin’s A Dog’s Life (1918), Bellissima (1951) starring Anna Magnani as a poor, working class mom trying desperately to secure a movie audition for her daughter, Carnival of Souls (1962), a cult horror film filmed in Lawrence, Kansas and Magna, Utah, and Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Medea (1969) featuring opera icon Maria Callas in the title role.

Director Pier Paolo Pasolini (right) with Maria Callas on the set of Medea (1969).

Youtube.com

Founded in 2005, Youtube remains the most popular aggregator of free, streaming video content and if you know what you are looking for in advance, you will be surprised at some of the lost treasures you can dig up here. The streaming quality can vary from a high definition transfer to a beat-up looking 16mm print but the thrill of the hunt is part of the attraction.

A scene from Shohei Imamura’s Profound Desires of the Gods (1968).

Youtube is my go-to destination when I am trying to find some forgotten B-movie or neglected genre film. And it’s a great place to go fishing for foreign films, many of which are presented in their original language, occasionally offered with English subtitles. Here are just a few of the gems I’ve unearthed lately:

An Italian film poster of the 1957 German film, The Devil Strikes at Midnight.

The Devil Strikes at Midnight (1957), made by Robert Siodmak after he returned to Germany from his Hollywood phrase, is a masterful suspense thriller about a serial killer on the loose in Hamburg during WW2. Profound Desires of the Gods (1968) from Japanese director Shohei Imamura is a fascinating but challenging exploration of a culture clash between an engineer from Tokyo and the backward inhabitants of a tropical isle. Aleksandr Ptushko’s The Stone Flower (1946) is a colorful fantasy adventure from the man who gave us Sadko (released in the U.S. as The Magic Voyage of Sinbad) and Ilya Muromets (released in the U.S. as The Sword and the Dragon).   Ro.Go.Pa.G. (1963) is an ambitious quartet of short films about modern life which showcases the work of Jean-Luc Godard, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Roberto Rossellini and Ugo Gregoretti and features Orson Welles as a pretentious director in the Pasolini episode. Naked Alibi (1954) is an overlooked film noir starring Sterling Hayden as an ex-cop on the trail of suspected murder Gene Barry. Gloria Grahame plays the nightclub singer in a Mexican border town who becomes an unwitting link between the two men. The atmospheric black and white cinematography is by Russell Metty (The Stranger, Ride the Pink Horse) and the supporting cast includes Marcia Henderson, Max Showalter aka Casey Adams, Billy Chapin (the child actor from The Night of the Hunter) and Chuck Connors.

A scene from Cairo Station (1958), directed by Youssef Chahine

Gang War in Milan (1973) is a gritty, English dubbed Poliziotteschi (crime drama) from Italian genre director Umberto Lenzi which is anything but dull. Cairo Station (1957) by renowned Egyptian director Youssef Chahine is an evocative melodrama that reaches operatic heights of emotion.

Lurid and trashy are appropriate descriptions of The Girl in Black Stockings (1957), a murder mystery filmed in Kanab, Utah and featuring one of the most eclectic casts ever – Anne Bancroft, Lex Barker, Mamie Van Doren, Marie Windsor, John Dehner, Ron Randell (in an unforgettable, hate-spewing performance) and Stuart Whitman and Dan Blocker in bit parts.  Popcornflix.com

This is another movie streaming website that requires no registration but, like Vudu.com, all films are usually preceded by advertising and the majority of titles are from the 1980s to the present, represented by titles like the Tom Cruise box office hit, The Firm (1993), Internal Affairs (1990), a crime drama with Richard Gere, Alexander Payne’s Oscar nominated drama Nebraska (2013) and The Hunter (1980), Steve McQueen’s final film role.  The best thing about Popcornflix is their large library of independent films and lesser-known efforts like The Double (2013), Richard Ayoade’s intriguing adaptation of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel with Jesse Eisenberg in a dual role, Anomalisa (2015), Duke Johnson & Charlie Kaufman’s existential animation drama about an alienated urban dweller (voiced by David Thewlis), The Stunt Man (1980), and Richard Rush’s sleeper hit about a megalomaniac film director (Peter O’Toole). The only drawback is that the visual quality on the featured films can vary from excellent to mediocre or worse.

Jesse Eisenberg plays a dual role in Richard Ayoade’s The Double (2013), co-starring Mia Wasikowska.

Hollywood golden age fare is offered here – Sabrina (1954), Sunset Boulevard (1950), Orson Welles’s Othello (1951), The General (1926) starring Buster Keaton – and most international films are presented in their original language with English subtitles like the Danish historical tragedy, A Royal Affair (2012) from Denmark, a wild Russian documentary entitled The Road Movie (2016) and Holy Motors (2012), a dream-like dawn to dusk journey from French director Leos Carax.  My favorite aspect of the website is a collection of cult movies, courtesy of Shout! Factory that includes Roger Corman’s The Wasp Woman (1959), Jack Hill’s The Big Bird Cage (1972), a woman-in-prison drive-in classic with Pam Grier, Assault on Precinct 13, John Carpenter’s 1976 homage to the Howard Hawks western Rio Bravo, and the original 1974 version of Black Christmas starring Olivia Hussey, Kier Dullea and Margot Kidder.   There are many other legal, free streaming movie services you might want to investigate like Hoopla.com or SONY Crackle. Just make sure you avoid using illegal sites like GoStream.site and others who are a major threat to the movie industry and filmmakers. If the site is not supported by advertising partners, that makes it highly suspect (Snagfilms, listed above, is a rare exception). More importantly, if you patronize unauthorized websites like GoStream, you are guilty of a criminal act!

 

 

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