Enlivening though it may be, video on demand can’t do a bit to change one of the two certainties in this world. But as April 15 approaches, VOD does have the power to lessen one’s anxiety about that other sure thing, since free video streams abound online — and you don’t need to be a pirate to claim the booty.
Granted, most of the VOD networks offering movies and TV shows for nothing aren’t worth the time it takes to load their home pages. But Crackle, which I recently discovered (while prepping my tax return, in fact), is something else again.
Early in my Crackle clicking, I was shocked and psyched to find 1965’s “Bunny Lake Is Missing” (in HD, yet), director Otto Preminger’s oddly feminist post-“Psycho” cult thriller about a woman’s search for a preschool daughter who may never have existed. The film is a mystery on multiple levels. For starters: How on Earth did Preminger figure putting Laurence Olivier, Keir Dullea, Noel Coward and the Zombies in the same movie?
Crackle’s quirky content currently includes documentaries, a handful of Godzilla flicks, eight movies featuring pugilists and programs from “Sanford and Son” to “The Shield.” Its lean lineup refreshes monthly and is largely available in HD via streaming players such as Apple TV and Roku, as well as mobiles, tablets and ye olde Web browser. You don’t even need to register to open the spigot.
But, of course, nothing is ever really free. Payment for Crackle is made the old-fashioned way, through one’s endurance of ads — a couple before the title starts, then several more intermittently throughout. At least the films themselves remain unedited. I had to laugh, though (and then wince), when my Crackle screening of “Taxi Driver” was interrupted by an ad for Viagra — just as De Niro’s Travis Bickle started fixating on poor Betsy.
Other great movies on Crackle don’t suffer much from commercials. “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” (2006), my favorite of director Adam McKay’s comedic collaborations with Will Ferrell, has always been an ad to begin with — not just for NASCAR, but the “official tampon of NASCAR,” plus everything in America from Applebee’s to the “always delicious” Taco Bell. (Bonus points to Crackle for streaming the film’s original theatrical version rather than the bloated two-hour edition that circulates elsewhere.)
Most titles on the Sony-owned Crackle come, naturally, from Sony, but MGM and Lionsgate are also represented, with NBC-Universal product reportedly coming soon. The network even boasts some original content, including the Jerry Seinfeld series “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,” which prompted Larry David to tell his former partner, “You’ve finally made a show about nothing.” Sounds like a rare and well-timed chance to get what you pay for.
Also notable on VOD
Voting in January, the National Society of Film Critics issued a tie for the “best film still awaiting American distribution.” One of the movies, Taiwanese director Tsai Ming-liang’s minimalist character study “Stray Dogs,” recently screened at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival. The other, “Hide Your Smiling Faces,” was acquired by Tribeca Films and is now available for rent or purchase on iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Google Play and Vudu.
A lush, dreamlike depiction of two young brothers forced to confront the reality of death when their friend passes under mysterious circumstances, “Hide Your Smiling Faces” marks the debut of American writer-director Daniel Patrick Carbone, who displays a refreshing lack of interest in kid-film commerciality while indelibly capturing the early maturation of boys in rural New Jersey at summertime. More tone poem than melodrama, the film is gorgeously shot in widescreen and exceptionally well acted by the young leads.