August is hot and sticky, to the point where many days it gets too uncomfortable to go outside even after the sun has gone down. That’s where a reliable air conditioner and a Netflix account come in handy. There’s bound to be at least a couple days out of this month where you just want to draw the shades, crank up the AC and avoid the sun.
But what movies to stream while you’re in seclusion? Start with this list of new additions to the service, which are all worth a look.
As always, click on the films’ titles in order to be taken to their Netflix page, where you can add them to your My List.
Pick of the Month:
Writer/director Hirokazu Koreeda’s latest film, Like Father, Like Son, got a small theatrical release in the US at the beginning of the year, but it didn’t earn a whole lot of buzz or get a whole ton of eyeballs put on it. That’s a shame, because there’s a chance that it could be the very best movie that gets released in this country all year. Koreeda’s film is a family drama that examines what it means to be a family, how much of that familial bond builds over time and how much of it develops naturally because of genetics, and what happens when the whole mess suddenly gets called into question. “Examines” makes this movie sound a lot more clinical than it is though. Like Father, Like Son is as emotional as it gets.
The story introduces us to a cosmopolitan young yuppie couple played by Masaharu Fukuyama and Machiko Ono and their good-natured six-year-old son, Keita (Keita Ninomiya), and then pulls the rug out from under both the audience and the characters when it’s revealed that Keita is not their son at all. Thanks to a mix up at the hospital when he was born, their real biological son (Shôgen Hwang) was given to a blue collar, suburban couple (Rirî Furankî and Yôko Maki), and this couple, in turn, were given theirs.
After six years of each couple raising the wrong kid as their own, what are they to do? The rest of the film deals with the quartet meeting each other, meeting the other kids, and then coming to a decision. Honestly, I’m getting a little dusty right now just writing up a plot synopsis. Emotional. As. Hell. Don’t be scared though, Like Father, Like Son isn’t crass enough to be a tear-jerker, and it contains quite a few moments of joy as well. It’s mandatory viewing.
Sydney Lumet’s debut feature, 12 Angry Men, has become one of those movie that’s made its way onto film studies curricula, and with good reason. Even though the movie takes place almost entirely in a single jury room, where 12 men deliberate on a trial they’ve just sat through, it’s still tense and riveting all the way through, and that’s because of its crafting. Lumet cranks up the appearance of heat in the room and makes his actors get sweatier and sweatier as their arguments increase. He changes the lenses on his cameras so that the walls of the room seem to come in closer and closer over time. He changes the angles from which he shoots so that the film begins with our vantage point floating slightly above the conflict, and ends with the characters towering over us menacingly. Being in this jury room is like being in a pressure cooker that’s eventually going to blow, and Lumet expertly milks that drama for all that it’s worth.
Movies with the word “bad” in their title that focus on characters who have behavior issues go back, at least, to the original Bad New Bears, but over the last decade or so they’ve kind of became a thing, and that all stems back from how great Bad Santa was. From director Terry Zwigoff, who’s the same purveyor of counter culture sleaze that brought us stuff like Crumb and Ghost World, Bad Santa casts Billy Bob Thornton as a drunken, perverted, despicable thief who pulls off a yearly scam where he poses as a department store Santa and then robs the place blind on Christmas Eve.
Things take a turn when he meets a weird, snotty, annoying kid played by Bret Kelly. They don’t really bond, and they don’t really teach each other about life or anything—because this movie is way more uncompromising than that—but their relationship does somehow manage to be hilarious and kind of bittersweet anyway. If there’s any modern movie that’s going to become a lasting Christmas classic, it’s Elf, but, if there’s another one, it’s Bad Santa.
For a brief period in the mid-90s, the whole world became obsessed with street crime, and how the rising tide of gang violence was bound the swallow our world whole, like it had in the opening scene of Demolition Man. A ton of movies came out that tapped into this fascination/fear, but Boyz N the Hood is probably the movie that kicked it all off, and it’s certainly held up over time as being the best of the crop. For one, it was the movie that was most concerned with putting a human face on the gang violence of the early 90s. For another, it was anchored by a strong performance from a young actor named Cuba Gooding Jr. (who went on to star in Snow Dogs), and it was written and directed by a promising new filmmaker named John Singleton (who went on to make 2 Fast 2 Furious).
Okay, so maybe this movie ended up being the height of both these guys’ careers, but it still managed to capture the struggles of a whole generation of kids growing up in poverty and then communicate them to a broader audience, and it’s a nice reminder of a time before Ice Cube became a live action teddy bear to boot.
It’s true that most people think of Cheech & Chong as a novelty act these days, and really that’s what they’ve always been, but they’re also damned great at performing their gimmick; so much so that they were pretty much the biggest comedy act in the world at one point in time. Up in Smoke is the first feature film that they did together, and—be honest—you grew up watching this thing over and over again on cable. Probably you haven’t watched it recently, though, and wouldn’t you know it, it actually holds up pretty well. These guys were so comfortable in their roles at this point, the economy of storytelling in this script is actually kind of amazing, and there manages to be a good number of legit laughs throughout. Plus, Tom Skerritt shows up playing a whacked-out Vietnam vet, and it’s as amazing as it sounds.
If Boyz N the Hood is a strong movie about growing up in crime and poverty that’s very much a product of its time, City of God is a great movie about growing up in crime and poverty that’s timeless. This is a movie that’s full of great performances, memorable characters, iconic moments and unforgettable visuals, placed in a vibrant setting and presented with a style all its own. When it was released in 2002 it felt like a breath of fresh air, and re-watching it today is just as exhilarating an experience.
There’s an energy and a vitality to this movie that’s apparent right from the opening scene, which is a chase to catch a rogue chicken through the streets of Rio de Janeiro that works as an establishing of the setting as well as an establishing of the street photography aesthetic that co-directors Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund imbue the film with. The individual shots that make up the sequence are edited together so quickly that the visuals eventually take on the same syncopated rhythm of the drums that play over the soundtrack. City of God hits the ground running and doesn’t stop until it becomes both an epic look at a criminal underworld that appears alien to US eyes, as well as a coming of age tale that just about anyone can relate to. Truly great stuff here.
It’s true that Tony Scott mostly makes mindless action movies that are all about bluster and dramatic sequences that take place during twilight, rather than serious films that are more worthy of in-depth discussion, but Crimson Tide is so concerned with escalating tensions between Russia and the rest of the world that it feels pretty topical these days anyway. And, aside from that, it’s also just a really fun action movie like you’d expect from Scott, with the benefit of having huge stakes and scary tension thanks to its finger-on-the-button nuclear holocaust plot. The whole thing gets elevated because the drama revolves around Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman bouncing dialogue off of each other, too. Is there any actor out there not working anymore who’s as missed as Hackman is right now? Good lord, does he make you hate him here. He’s just poisonous.
It’s not easy to find enough time during the day to watch a three-hour-plus movie, but if you’re any kind of film fan at all, you’re going to have to do it at some point in order to watch Gandhi.
It’s true that this film follows the typical, trying-to-squeeze-in-too-many-periods-of-an-important-figure’s-life biopic template, which makes it feel a little bit like homework, but the story is so inherently dramatic and Ben Kingsley is so damned good playing Gandhi that it’s engaging to watch anyway. Gandhi had so many responsibilities thrust upon him, which changed his life irreparably, and Kingsley disappears so completely into the role and brings the man to life so vividly that you essentially feel like you’re being called to action alongside him. This is stirring filmmaking, for sure.
Jason Statham movies are generally pretty reliable. They’re never all that good, never all that bad, but in the end you’re always left with the feeling that at least you got to watch Jason Statham be charming and kick some people’s heads in. If there’s a problem with Jason Statham movies, it’s generally that Statham is pretty good in them, but every other aspect of them is boring and forgettable.
Not so with Homefront, a film that pits our hero against a bunch of crazy bikers and a meth dealer named Gator who’s played by James Franco. What starts out as a movie about a pretty simple small town squabble quickly escalates into kidnappings, shootings, head-smashings and explosions. Guys like Frank Grillo and Clancy Brown add local color, gals like Kate Bosworth and Winona Ryder are memorable as white trash tweakers. The whole thing is just a touch more flavorful than your usual Statham-led fare, which makes it less of a guilty pleasure than his usual joints.