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The B List 

click to enlarge "Change my mind."

One Day As a Lion

"Change my mind."

Because this is an era defined in part by unearned nostalgia, we still frequently refer to a certain type of cinema as "B movies" or, if our geekiness tends to anachronism, "programmers." This calls back to a time when the movie industry was more siloed but also more disparate, when studios diverted resources and talent to less prestigious, less grandiose projects in order to control as much of the market as possible. This is a cynical perspective, but an industry that produces an infinitely resellable commodity from which the consumer walks away with literally nothing tangible may be an inherently cynical one, regardless of how much I love its output.

As the diversification of media has inevitably changed the studio model, though, we are left with vestigial, generally unhelpful labels. To call something a B movie, with apologies to David Hyde Pierce, suggests it is somehow "less than," a minor effort unqualified for top tier honors. But the B Team, especially with theatrical distribution in utter disarray, often has more to offer, in terms of style, substance and sheer entertainment, than the internationally proliferated megaliths thrust upon us as monoculture. And so, here follows a brief recounting of a few B movies available on streaming services; some recommended with fewer reservations than other(s).

ONE DAY AS A LION. Writer/director/producer John Swab has, in short order, established himself as a sort of individual studio system, churning out pictures at a rate largely unmatched in recent history. Since 2021, he has released five features, including three this year. Of those three, Candy Land, is a boldly sexualized slasher-thriller set among the culture of '90s truck stop sex workers — lot lizards — that dials up the lurid pulpiness while also showcasing deeply personalized characters, both in the writing and the performances. Little Dixie I have yet to see, but One Day as a Lion, written by and starring Scott Caan, harkens back to a time when we could depend on the occasional, clever, modestly scaled crime drama.

Somewhere in Oklahoma (Swab's home state and setting of choice), inept pseudo-criminal Jackie Powers (Caan) finds himself in an untenable position. With his teen-aged son Billy (Dash Melrose) being held on kidnapping charges and no remaining options, Jackie asks a favor of his local mob boss, Pauly (Frank Grillo). Simple enough: All Jackie has to do is murder a prominent local rancher (J.K. Simmons) who owes Pauly $100k. Jackie botches the job, though, and ends up on the lam with a waitress named Lola (Marianne Rendón), the only daughter of the locally notorious Black Widow (Virginia Madsen), five times unlucky in matrimony and suffering from terminal cancer.

Caan has a cultivated screen presence, but obviously learned enough from his father not to try and copy him. Instead, he's got a convincing fighter's physicality underneath a transparent, seemingly unintentional, goofy kindness. He's also a clever writer, constructing a simple but detailed scenario and sturdily built relationships within it. The chemistry between Caan and Rendón particularly, ranging from dismissal to bemused tolerance to something more, feels authentic but also elevated enough to be entertaining.

Swab, journeyman that he seems to be, has an eye for the unassumingly cinematic, making the most of locations, camera placement, lighting and editing to make One Day as a Lion feel both ambitious and unpretentious, a throwback with foresight. R. 87M. STREAMING.

QUASI. So this is where the reservations temper the recommendations. I've been an ardent, sometimes outspoken advocate for the work of Broken Lizard (Jay Chandrasekhar, Kevin Heffernan, Steve Lemme, Erik Stolhanske and Paul Soter) ever since Super Troopers (2001) made my afternoon a couple decades ago. And I still believe it; Club Dread (2004) and Beerfest (2006) make up a near perfect comedy triptych that also plays with genre in inventive, joyfully stupid ways. I've been less hot on their individual and collective output in the intervening period though Chandrasekhar has proven himself an exceedingly competent director of television comedy.

Somehow, the five of them decided (presumably with guidance from the financiers) that the best thing to do next would be to liberally adapt the story of Quasimodo, the hunchback of Notre Dame, into an R-rated comedy. They're striving for a Monty Python tribute, I think, with each of them assaying multiple roles and seasoning the works with testicle torture and cousin sex.

It doesn't work, but either because of nostalgia or goodwill or some degree of undeniable charm I still kind of like it. R. HULU.

SICK. It would ruin the surprise to say much, but this cabin-slasher from director John Hyams and writers Kevin Williamson (yeah, Scream) and Katelyn Crabb is probably the best movie I've seen so far about the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cleverly, simply plotted and executed with an unexpected degree of technique and artfulness, Sick distills the paranoia and uncertainty of April of 2020 into a bloody, gleeful horror-show that rivals Barbarian in terms of craft and cleverness. R. 83M. PEACOCK.

John J. Bennett (he/him) is a movie nerd who loves a good car chase.

NOW PLAYING

AIR. The sneakerhead drama about the birth of the Nike-Jordan branding partnership starring Ben Affleck and Matt Damon that nobody has been waiting for. R. 112M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, MINOR.

ARE YOU THERE GOD? IT'S ME, MARGARET. Abby Ryder Fortson stars in the adaptation of the classic novel of adolescent girlhood and Ron DeSantis' nightmares. Get his ass, Judy Blume. PG13. 105M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

BEAU IS AFRAID. Joaquin Phoenix looking like hell again, this time as a man riddled with anxiety returning home after his mother's death. R. 179M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, MINOR.

BIG GEORGE FOREMAN. Pre-grill biopic of the boxer starring Khris Davis. 129M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

THE BLACK DEMON. A family stuck on an oil rig off Mexico evades a giant shark with grudges. R. 100M. BROADWAY.

THE COVENANT. Director Guy Ritchie goes to war with Jake Gyllenhaal as a U.S. soldier and Dar Salim as an Afghani interpreter. R. 123M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

DUNGEONS & DRAGONS: HONOR AMONG THIEVES. Get in, nerds. Chris Pine and Michelle Rodriguez are going on an epic quest. PG13. 140M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

EVIL DEAD RISE. It's sisters vs. monsters in the continuation of the gory franchise. R. 97M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 4. Keanu Reeves returns as the globe-trotting hitman and dog lover on the run from an international cast of stylish killers. R. 169M. BROADWAY.

MET OPERA: CHAMPION. Terence Blanchard's opera starring Ryan Speedo Green as young boxer Emile Griffith. NR. 180M. MINOR.

RENFIELD. Comedy-horror about Dracula's assistant (Nicholas Hoult) trying to get away from his toxic boss (Nicolas Cage). R. 93M. BROADWAY.

SISU. Nazis steal gold from a legendary Finnish veteran (Jorma Tommila) who goes Nordic John Wick on them. R. 91M. BROADWAY.

SUPER MARIO BROS. MOVIE. Mustachioed brothers race to save a princess. Starring Chris Pratt, Charlie Day and Anna Taylor-Joy. PG. 92M. BROADWAY (3D), MILL CREEK (3D), MINOR.

SUZUME. A teenage girl uses magical doors to prevent disasters in Japan in this anime that will probably make you cry. PG. 122M. MINOR.

Fortuna Theatre is temporarily closed due to earthquake damage. For showtimes call: Broadway Cinema (707) 443-3456; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre (707) 822-3456.

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