To loosely paraphrase the lyrics from a 1964 classic: “Summer’s here and the time is right for shutting the curtains in the middle of the afternoon and watching your favorite films without seeing your own reflective glare in the TV.” Not as catchy, I grant you, but nobody wants to peer into their own soul while guiltily imbibing at the nourishing teat of the Videodrome; surely that’s the job of the Kardashians and their thousand-yard selfie-stares into the vapid abyss of Narcissus’ lipstick-stained bathroom mirror.
To assuage this existential crisis for us regular (and slightly irregular) folks, Netflix has kindly taken the lead in offering up a panoply of brightly colored distractions that we can enjoy without seeing our own pasty visages looming out of the digital murk like the juddery girl from The Ring (1998).
In fact, with several new additions this month, Netflix has gone one further and offered up films that not only remove our own reflections with vivid imagery, but remove our cerebral functions as well. Special mention must go to August 1st’s slate of Big Daddy (1999), Final Destination 3 (2006), Zack and Miri Make a Porno (2008), The Fast and the Furious (2001), and The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006) — the film that cemented director Justin Lin’s place at the top of the Fast-food chain, and led to him being the director of this summer’s rather fun Star Trek Beyond (2016).
This month, Netflix also embraces what must be some algorithmically derived genre oppositions for maximum profit, by countering their “Bro”-seph and “Bro”-sephine battle royales of populist nonsense with romantic entanglements, pre-Pepper Potts perfunctory Paltrow performances, and a pre-melt down, Sinatra-impersonating Mel Gibson (which I’m pretty sure nobody asked for) in Sliding Doors (1998), Pay It Forward (2000), What Women Want (2000), and The Wedding Planner (2001).
What women might want is to see all of these actors in better films, so onwards from this crime scene of poor taste, post-haste (as I believe the youths in The Fast and the Furious might say), to the movies that Netflix have added to their catalog in August that I believe are worth your precious time.
The Verdict (Sidney Lumet, 1982)
A trial movie made by the same director as 12 Angry Men (1957), written by David Mamet — The Untouchables (1982) and Glengarry Glen Ross (1992) — and starring the inestimable Paul Newman, Charlotte Rampling, and James Mason. If that line up doesn’t excite you, and you’re not also drawn in by the Writers Guild of America considering it one of the top 101 Greatest Screenplays ever written, then consider this: in one of his first feature film roles, Bruce Willis plays Courtroom Observer (uncredited). Go see if you can spot Bruce and his full head of hair; he’ll thank you for it, next time you see him.
Sleepy Hollow (Tim Burton, 1999)
So I do a bit about cheerful summer films, and then I pick Sleepy Hollow. Like Jack Skellington in The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), you might be violently gesticulating “What’s this, what’s this?” at your screen, but for my money, this is the last great gothic Tim Burton movie, so it deserves a mention (he directly shoveled out Planet of the Apes  as his next film). Can you even imagine a time, back before Pirates of the Caribbean (2003), when Johnny Depp’s “unique” acting style wasn’t grating in, and unbalancing of, nearly every film he was in? Well, here it works because everything is moving in the same direction: a charming supernatural horror that almost goes full Hammer Horror with Washington Irving’s tale of the Headless Horseman, Ichabod Crane, and Christina Ricci (she’s older than she looks). The film won an Academy Award for Best Art Direction, and it shows in every creeping fog-entwined shadow of the film frame.
Star Trek: Nemesis (Stuart Baird, 2002)
This is the tenth one in the series. This is the one where Picard and the Next Generation crew fight a Romulan puppet Picard (Tom Hardy, in one of his less memorable roles). This is the one where everything seems to be bathed in The Incredible Hulk (1978-1982) levels of green gamma radiation lighting. This is the one that featured Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton), but then his appearance was mercifully stripped back to a silent cameo.
PopMatters will be running a Star Trek special later this year, so if you’d like to get up to speed, then starting with one of the lesser Trek films wouldn’t be the worse way to begin; watching anything with a higher Crusher-quotient might be.
The Little Prince (Mark Osborne, 2015) — NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Using both computer and stop-motion animation to create an adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s beloved 1943 novel, The Little Prince alternates between the now-standard Disney/Pixar aesthetic of bug-eyed people sincerely hyper-emoting “real-life situations” and a beautiful paper-thin world in which foxes talk philosophy, and the moon and desert are beautiful places of discovery. The framing device anchors a style that might not be quite as adventurous as Ghibli’s recent The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013), feeling more like a less hip Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) in execution. With input from Mark Osborne, one of the co-directors from Kung Fu Panda (2008), and Irena Brignull, one of the screenwriters from The Boxtrolls (2014), this Netflix Original (despite the film already having been released in France by Paramount Pictures) is well worth making the time for. Also: it’s an English language film, if the idea of a fox speaking French somehow bothers you.
No Country for Old Men (Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, 2007)
Winner of four Academy Awards (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay), No Country for Old Men is another Coen Brothers’ masterpiece. As Ulysses Everett McGill (George Clooney) says in O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000): it’s “Goddamned bona fide!” Shot as a Peckinpah-esque American neo-Western thriller adapted from a Cormac McCarthy novel (like Hillcoat’s The Road, below), No Country for Old Men is a precursor to the Coen Western True Grit (2010) and a stylish successor to their earlier neo-crime thrillers such as Blood Simple (1984) and Fargo (1996). However, the end product, as with almost every Coen Brothers’ film, isn’t a Hollywood journeyman film — the kind to be avoided by the eponymous screenwriter of Barton Fink — it’s another standalone classic. Bereft of the typically outlandish Coen brother humor, No Country for Old Men isn’t as immediately and universally accessible, but that sounds dangerously like an excuse The Dude would make, and you know, that’s just like, my opinion, man.
The Road (John Hillcoat, 2009)
In the second Cormac McCarthy adaptation on this list (unless he also ghost-wrote The Wedding Planner…), the neo-Western crumbles and gives way to a post-apocalyptic lamentation. In this visually bleached, bomb-kissed dirge, where cannibals keep their food alive in the basement, and grubby, furtive ambushes can happen at any moment, Man (Viggo Mortenson) and Boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee) grimly fight for survival. Sticks and stones will break bones. As with comparably nightmarish Skynet-scapes, such as Children of Men (2006), The Book of Eli (2010), or any of the Mad Max (1979-2015) films, one wonders how much abuse the stoic lead character can take before he transgresses his own ethical boundaries; it’s a fine line to walk, for sure, especially on the road (and especially if you’ve seen Viggo Mortenson in 2005’s A History of Violence).
Blue Is the Warmest Color (Abdellatif Kechiche, 2013)
Winning the Palme d’Or at Cannes, Blue is the Warmest Color is a French coming-of-age romance that has drawn controversy over some of its sexual content. In his PopMatters column on the film, Brice Ezell offers that “The sex is intended to arouse, but not for the benefit of baser impulses. What Blue is the Warmest Color demands of its viewers is to stop looking and start sensing, start engaging with cinema with all five senses. There does lie a simple love story at the core of this remarkable film, but it should be experienced not as a story to be read or to be watched; it’s meant to be felt. […] it’s a demand few are ready to accept, let alone be prepared for.” Out on the 26th, you’ve got plenty of time to get prepared; I’m not sure how, but I feel like a feather, soft-lighting (blue, of course), and some ’80s saxophone music should be involved.
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So, with some new friends coming into the fold, we must, like the self-interested social-media creatures that we are, swipe left on some of the uglier propositions that no longer tickle our collective fancies. In truth, not all of the films leaving Netflix this month are terrible, so I’ll just leave this list here of some of the films that might be missed. Another special mention must be made, this time for our fallen comrade Wing Commander (1999), mainly because I forgot that a) Wing Commander was a thing in the ’90s, and b) Freddie Prinze, Jr., was a thing in the ’90s.
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961)
The Longest Day (1962)
Von Ryan’s Express (1965)
Addams Family Values (1993)
The Mummy (1999)
The Mummy Returns (2001)
The Aviator (2004)
Day Watch (2006)