From the very start, the thesis of this monthly column has been that there’s plenty of great stuff always being added to Netflix, if you just dig for it a little. While we still stand by that statement, it’s also true that the last few weeks worth of new additions have felt a little light—not quite up to the standards of recent months. N
ot to worry though, as we’ve still been able to sort through the rubble and find 16 good movies to stream that all range from being worth your time to downright exceptional, so we should all be able to survive until the next big title dump.
As always, click on the movie’s title to be taken to its Netflix page.
Pick of the Month: Blue Ruin (2013)
Most revenge movies are escapist stories that deal in a black and white, eye for an eye morality and feature over-the-top protagonists who go to extreme lengths in order to avenge wrongs that have been done to them. They’re pretty simple, but they’re pretty satisfying. Blue Ruin isn’t like those movies. While it is, essentially, a revenge movie, it manages to raises itself a step or two above the rest of the rabble by being smarter and more interesting than the films that stick to the usual formula.
First off, the protagonist here isn’t a killing machine. He’s an in-over-his-head everyman who’s reacting to his situation more like a wounded animal than a terminator. And the revenge he takes isn’t treated like an inevitability, or something to be cheered. Things get messy, and eventually the dark desire to take revenge creates a tangled web of cat and mouse murder that leads to displays of violence that are way messier and horrifying than satisfying or fun. Writer/director Jeremy Saulnier put together a smart script, he shot a beautiful movie, and he found a naturally expressive open wound of a leading man in Macon Blair. Blue Ruin would be great even if it didn’t include a scene where Buzz from Home Alone (Devin Ratray) brags that he owns the A-Team gun, but also it does.
The world has no great shortage of indie movies about arrestedly-developed, adult children going back to their home towns to stay with their parents for a while, but A Short History of Decay is a decent one, so it shouldn’t be written off just because the concept has become stale. Bryan Greenberg stars as a wannabe writer who’s way too old to still be a wannabe writer, whose smoking hot girlfriend (Emmanuelle Chriqui) has recently kicked him to the curb, whose father (Harris Yulin) has recently suffered a stroke, and whose mother (Linda Lavin) is suffering from Alzheimer’s.
Things are bleak, but lessons get learned during the trip to visit the ailing family. Not big lessons though, this isn’t that sort of movie. More than anything, it’s just a pleasant little slice of life with a zen-like approach to the ebb and flow of our highs and lows. The low key approach is refreshing, and it makes for a handful of really sweet and authentic moments.
We’re not talking about the Michael Bay-directed cop movie starring Will Smith and Martin Lawrence here, though the last time I checked, that movie was also streaming on Netflix. Instead, this is the 1983 movie about troubled youth that stars a young and just post-Spicoli Sean Penn, directed by Rick Rosenthal (Halloween II, and the amazing Russkies). The story sees Penn playing a budding young street criminal who gets messed up in some bad business, commits manslaughter and then gets thrown into the clink.
Bad Boys is basically a melodrama, but it manages to build a tense situation where Penn’s character has to make a moral decision that carries serious stakes. Though he’s young, Penn’s talent is already on clear display, and a just-getting-ready-to-be-in-a-billion-John-Hughes-movies Ally Sheedy even shows up playing his girlfriend. How often do you get to see her these days?
Despite the fact that Jim Carrey was about the biggest comedy actor in the world when The Cable Guy was first released, it didn’t initially fare so well with audiences and critics. It made about $60m worldwide, sandwiched in between a bunch of Carrey movies that made well over $100m, and the vast majority of film writers skewered it. Watching it now reveals that it might be Jim Carrey’s best-aging movie, and it’s definitely the best movie that Ben Stiller has ever directed (okay, Tropic Thunder is a contender).
Not only is Cable Guy funny all of the way through, it was also ahead of its time when it came to portraying how a generation of people who were raised by the television rather than their parents would end up mentally warped. Most people remember it as being a straight comedy, but there’s also some Hitchcock hanging around in there, too. And that “White Rabbit” karaoke scene is still the best thing that Carrey has ever done. Give this one another chance if it didn’t click with you the first time around.
Found footage horror movies have been an easy way for aspiring horror directors to make low-budget projects for years. The format allows for tons of corners to be cut, which also allows for a lot of low quality crap to be churned out. The Den makes the limitations of first person photography an asset rather than a hindrance, though, by taking things a step further and presenting a movie that consists entirely of shots from web cams. It successfully makes its slasher story a step more mysterious and a step more intriguing than all of the other found footage splatterfests out there—quite like how popular lore says the robotic shark not working forced Steven Spielberg to get more creative with Jaws. That’s not to say that this movie is in any way ready to be compared with Jaws, mind you, but it does still manage to use an old formula and fairly old format in interesting new ways.
The original Mad Max trilogy was so beloved among film fans that it’s about to spawn a reboot starring Tom Hardy, so there’s a good chance that this movie doesn’t really need any introduction. It might need a little spotlight shone on it though, because it seems like people these days watch the sequels way more than they do the low budget original that started it all.
Even given its smaller scale, there are still plenty of reasons to revisit the original Mad Max: Mel Gibson’s Max gets one of the greatest hero introductions this side of Raiders of the Lost Ark, the rest of the movie is so full of cars crashing and bodies getting mutilated that the pace never lets up, and the whole thing sticks so closely to the classic revenge formula that it never risks being ineffective. You need to hear the score, too. It’s so big and obvious that it goes completely around from being bad and back to being awesome again. This is B-movie filmmaking at its best.
Let’s just get this out of the way right from the beginning—any movie that starts off with Arnold Schwarzenegger doing ballet is okay by me, so Pumping Iron basically gets a free pass. If this movie was made in any other time period, it would have been a boring and forgotten documentary about bodybuilders, but because it had the good fortune of filming in the last year that Arnie was competing for Mr. Universe, it basically had no choice but to be wildly entertaining.
Schwarzenegger has a once in a generation charisma, and he puts it on full display in this movie — a film which paints him as the lazy incumbent who spends his days relaxing, having a good time and flirting with women while the hungry young challenger, Lou Ferrigno, scrapes and claws to take his title.
How that story ends is almost too good to be believed. The movie also has so many great quotes in it that it’s easy to revisit. If you’ve gone this long without seeing what all the Pumping Iron fuss is about, it’s high time you fix that mistake.
If cinema in the 80s was all about milking every last bit of drama out of the Soviet Threat and putting child characters in thrilling situations where they were forced to perform beyond their means and experience levels (which it was), then there’s a case to be made that Red Dawn is the most 80s movie of all time. It was co-written and directed by the machismo-oozing king of 80s action, John Milius, it featured 80s icons like Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, Lea Thompson, and Jennifer Grey, and its story is about a Communist takeover of the United States and the group of high school kids who form a rebel militia in order to fight back.
Red Dawn is so 80s that it might as well be wearing leg warmers, so the fact that they recently put out a remake that updated the story to modern times is just absurd. If you haven’t seen a Red Dawn yet, don’t watch that remake. Watch the ridiculous original, and appreciate how shitcrazy insane the decade of excess truly was.